Written by: Jen Dan
Sometimes hitting a wall creatively is the best thing that can happen to an artist. Ending up in a cul de sac can serve as the perfect catalyst for a creative reawakening, a reinvention, an opportunity to allow yourself to take risks and, in the process, create something completely new.
Cloud Folk, the new album from Swiss singer/songwriter Long Tall Jefferson (who is also the founder of the collective Red Brick Chapel), wouldn’t have been possible without the artist hitting this type of creative roadblock.
While on tour promoting his previous release, Jefferson felt stuck. He knew that he couldn’t cut another standard indie folk record, but he couldn’t quite imagine an alternative either.
The soft touches of auto-tune on his vocals, the synths and drum machines recalling the latest electronica or trap-infused pop production – all of these new additions to his sound actually started as an insider joke, a game between band members. The joke eventually turned into a personal challenge, and then into a whole body of work that signifies a completely new genre.
Cloud Folk is the musical equivalent of a Kalmotxo, a drink consisting of mixture of red wine and cola. It’s bubbly, spritely sweet, and will put a little bounce in your step if you indulge.
The LP also features Franziska Staubli on e-guitar and Laura Schenk on keyboards. Long Tall Jefferson was responsible for the writing, the acoustic guitar, and the voice that will be stuck in your head for days!
Hello! So who is Long Tall Jefferson?
I’m a 32 year old Swiss guy, who’s fairly tall and plays his folk songs for a living.
How’d you come up with that name?
To be perfectly honest with you, I’ve been carrying this name for about 5 years now and I cannot quite recall its origin. I’ve been asked this very question more than any other and over the years I’ve found a bunch of different ways of explaining where it comes from.
At the moment, I’m pretty sure I was just trying to put myself in line with the old blues guys like Big Bill Broonzy, Mississippi John Hurt, or Blind Lemon Jefferson. I mean, Big Bill Jefferson would be just one step away from Long Tall Jefferson, right?
Your new record is much different from your previous output. What happened?
After having released two rather traditional folk records, I felt a very strong urge to somehow transform my music into something more “zeitgeisty.” I think at first it was an act of defiance towards the obvious comparisons to the old folk giants that I was hearing a lot at my shows. So, I was dreaming up this world in which I could have my folk songs dressed in swaggy 21st century streetwear, and called it Cloud Folk. So that was the mission I set out on with this record.
Can folk still evolve without tapping into other genres?
When I think of folk as a topic-based music, where the words contain a lot of references to current events – you know, like in the ‘60 – I immediately wanna go and write about my broken iPhone screen and debate why Twitter Fleets are annoying… and that would mean keeping up with the times on the writing side. On the musical side, however, I think everybody is blending everything with everything right now. Genre lines become blurrier by the hour and I think that’s really exciting.
Who is the most innovative folk singer songwriter you’ve heard recently?
I’m a huge fan of Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker. I think she’s probably the best songwriter of our generation. She really has everything! The lightness in the heavy stuff, the playfulness in severity, the effortlessness and the crafts(wo)menship, and this voice, those melodies, fresh chord changes, weird guitar tunings, the noise, the dirt, and the beauty.
Is there a folk scene in Switzerland? And if so, what’s it like?
There sure are a lot of people singing songs with their acoustic guitar over here and I guess we all sort of know each other, so one might call it a scene. But it’s not like we meet up for a hootenanny every other full moon. Especially now, with the Covid situation, I just totally lost track of what a scene really is…
So what is the plan now, since the record is out?
Weird as this may sound, we’re preparing to play shows. We just had a stage rehearsal with my band and we’re all super-pumped to go play our new set in the clubs. Other than that, I’m thinking of writing new stuff, but don’t really have the time, yet, so that’ll have to wait until January. On that note, I wish you all a merry holiday season!
Keep up with Long Tall Jefferson