In the last few years I got into traditional music, which is great. I kind of went crazy for it; there were a few artists that I listened to that opened up the door to that world. I ended up buying a series of books: the Child books, the Francis J. Child Collection of Ballads---which is a collection of Scottish popular ballads, and you can read multiple versions of the same story in the text---and all this language is this really old-fashioned, beautiful language, and I just got inspired by that.
They have these turns of phrases in those old songs, phrases like “never trust a young man with a black and roving eye.” And it’s so great, because you know what that means and it still means something now. It’s got so much of that restlessness and the hunger and the untrustworthiness, and so to be able to grab a phrase like that and put it in a song and put it in a new context feels like there’s something really powerful about those old songs.
Some people pointed out that it’s not that dissimilar from Hadestown because there’s some sort of recession inspired stuff, and this idea of America as just this wild frontier place, and it’s every man for himself, and you don’t know if anyone’s got your back. It’s just this incredible restless anxiety and ambition, because we’re raised to believe that we can do whatever we want, and we can be whatever we want, and we don’t necessarily have to answer to anyone.You and Justin Vernon seem to have a really great musical relationship. You collaborated on Hadestown, he covered one of your songs from Young Man in America, and now you’re on tour together. Can you tell me a little bit more about your musical relationship?
Justin is incredible. I’ve gotten to see his show a few nights in a row on this tour. He just never fails to completely stir me with the depth of his presence and his purity of heart. Where his music comes from and where his songs come from, you can just feel his heart in them a lot. As for our collaboration, I just feel like it was almost this cosmic. The universe just says “I’m gonna do something nice for you kid,” and that was what happened.
I was working on Hadestown, and I was hunting for an Orpheus character, and then out of the blue, those guys [Bon Iver] reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to open for them in Europe, and I was like “Oh, yes, absolutely”. That’s when I heard Justin sing, and then I was like “Oh, he’s just got to be the Orpheus character.” His voice was so ethereal, and emotional and feminine in a way, and then masculine, really powerful too. I just loved that the Orpheus character could encompass all of those things.