The “Jimi Hendrix Of The Violin”, Lili Haydn Explains What Life Has Dealt Her And What Her Album “LiliLand” Is All About
Posted On 03 Sep 2014
Tag: Acid King, Bartok, Beck, Bjork, Bootsy, Brahms, Brandy, Californication, Cocteau Twins, Darrell Thorp, David Duchovny, Debussy, Dvorak, Fiona Apple, George Clinton, Glastonbury, Gotya, Gotye, Great Gig In The Sky, Herbie Hancock, Hollywood Bowl, I Am A Man, James Gadson, Jeff Buckley, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Kashmir, Kate Bush, Lana Del Rey, Led Zeppelin, Lili Haydn, Lililand, Little Dragon, Lotus Weinstock, Martin Luther King, Matchbox 20, Matt Chamberlain, Michael Hampton, My My Cross The Line, No Doubt, Nusrat, P Funk, Parliament Funkadelic, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, Prince, Radiohead, Robert Plant, Roger Waters, Sia, Sinéad O'Connor, Sting, Tchaikovsky, TED TALK, The Brotherhood of the Source, The Jayhawks, Tom Petty, Tom Waits, Tori Amos, Tracy Chapman
Between Lili Haydn’s background of being in the Los Angeles commune “The Brotherhood of the Source” as a child, her father labeled as the Los Angeles “Acid King,” her mother being legendary comedienne Lotus Weinstock and Lili’s battle with brain damage, she ultimately recovered as a result of practicing a classical violin piece every morning. Needless to say, Lili Haydn is a fascinating interview subject.
What was the first moment that you realized you should start being a performer?
My mother was a performer and performed with me when I was in the womb, in fact she felt that a particular experience where she was booed off stage by 10,000 people while pregnant was probably responsible for immunizing me against stage fright.
I never questioned whether or not I should be a performer… I just was, and I grew up acting and performing with my mom. That said, as a musician, The moment that really clinched the deal for me was when I saw Pink Floyd perform at Glastonbury when I was about 18. I think it was Great Gig in the Sky that blew me away so much that I thought “that’s what I want to do!” Another life changing moment was when I saw Michael Hampton solo on maggot brain with P Funk and thought “I want to do that!”
You are a rock violinist which is pretty bad ass! George Clinton has even called you “the Jimi Hendrix of the violin”! What do you think of that?
George Clinton is one of my heroes, so all I can say is thank you and I’m honored! There are so many phenomenal musicians out there who deserve praise and recognition and I feel lucky to have been acknowledged by the father of funk!
You’ve played with some amazing musicians. From Sting, Tracy Chapman, The Jayhawks, Brandy, Josh Groban, Tony! Toni! Tone!, No Doubt, Tom Petty, Matchbox 20 and more. Tell me about some of these experiences? What has been the most memorable so far?
Well, the list you cited of musicians comes from a biography that was written about eight years ago, so, if I may fill out the list a little bit… George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Roger Waters, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and Herbie Hancock to name a few. I’ve had incredible experiences with all of them, but probably one of the most memorable life-changing ones was with Nusrat. We didn’t speak the same language, except for music and the exchange was truly inspired. I believe he was channeling, and it was with a whole different musical vocabulary than I was used to, so I was just literally riding on inspiration and faith and my ears. Standing 3 feet from someone who is literally pulling thunderbolts from the sky is pretty mind blowing. Of course, trading licks with Michael Hampton on maggot brain and Bootsy with the legendary George Clinton egging us on was pretty incredible too.
When you first start out in show business I think we all kind of think that there’s a goal to achieve, after which we will be happy and be able to relax. What I think is an unexpected revelation, is that there is no one goal to achieve, and that it is just, like any discipline, an ongoing evolution of becoming the best version of yourself and learning as much as you can, both as an artist and a human being. There are definitely levels of success I strive for, but I have come to realize that the joy is in the journey, as corny as that sounds, because the work is never ending and there is no real joy, except in the moment.
Your songs have been in several TV shows and movies including Californication and others. What’s been the coolest one for you?
It was cool to be on Californication because I got to play my song live on camera at the Hollywood bowl, and then a few years later I was contacted by David Duchovny and he told me that he became a big fan after that episode and asked me to play on his new music. I’ve also become a film composer, which is like having songs in a show or film, but more interactive, and that is really fun and tickles the imagination, opening up another world of possibilities!
My favorite songs to perform live are ones where I can improvise on the violin and have a range of dynamics from the fragile to the ferocious. I love to play with notes like mercury, making small sounds and then rocking out. Also, when there is some kind of emotional or humanitarian message, it gives me a little extra weight behind my performance when I’m singing… I have a song on the new record cold “I am a Man,” inspired by the signs the sanitation workers wore when they marched with Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement, declaring their human dignity, and it goes into a wailing violin solo after a soulful hymn, and that song is always inspiring to play. I also love covering “Kashmir” and rocking out on that!
In September, you will be releasing your first full length album in 6 years. How does that feel? What took you so long to release it?
It feels great to finally give birth to this baby of mine… Filled with so many cathartic, revelatory, inspired, playful experiences distilled in melodies and grooves and poetry that really had the time to evolve into what I hope are their best forms.
It took me six years for a couple of reasons… One was that I started scoring films about six years ago and have scored about 10 films during this period, and every time I thought I was done with the record I would score a new film, after which I would re-assess the record and integrate into the record the new elements of what I’d learned and who I’d become in the process. This is one of the things that makes this record so special for me, is that I really feel that it is a unique blend of all these disparate experiences that have shaped who I am. The other reason it took so long is that about five years ago I had pesticide poisoning from a chemical that was in my house, which is in any building built between 1948 and 1988, called chlordane. It was used to prevent termites and then later determined that it was deadly. It’s outlawed now, but it still exists in 30 to 60,000,000 homes in America, and in the process of some construction in my house, we disturbed the foundation, which released the chemical into the heating and air-conditioning system, contaminating everything and making me sick. I had to evacuate and get rid of everything I owned, including my grandmothers grand piano and all my pictures and personal belongings. Fortunately, the house was able to be saved through a very expensive and elaborate protocol, but I had brain damage from the pesticide poisoning (called toxic inebriation), and could not write lyrics or process information, and I ended up doing a very intense detox program and every kind of therapy you can imagine, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy , Neuro feedback, and more in order to get well.
But, it wasn’t until I finally started practicing my violin rigorously again, sight reading classical music, that I began to feel like myself again. I would practice and then the next day wake up feeling more like myself with a sense of my intelligence and well-being. It was a true miracle. I ended up doing a Ted talk about it, and learned in the process that music is the most effective form of Neuro therapy available, 65% more effective than any other kind of therapy for any kind of brain injury. Music causes Neuro Genesis and activates all areas of the brain, More so than any other discipline. Truly music is so important for the development of the brain and the rehabilitation of the brain, it really should be mandatory in schools, which is why I work with Matt Sorum and adopt the arts and other organizations to bring music back to schools.
The album is produced by you and mixed by Darrell Thorp (Radiohead, Beck) with drum work spearheaded by Matt Chamberlain (Pearl Jam, Lana Del Rey, Tori Amos). That’s quite an impressive list. What was it like working with them?
In the process of working on this record for so long I worked with several mixers and collaborators, all of whom were wonderful, but I kept bringing them reference tracks from Radiohead and back and finally I was fortunate enough to work with the guy who actually mixed those tracks… Darrell Thorp is a phenomenal talent, he’s just so great at bringing in life to everything I brought him. I recorded the record myself for the most part, so there were a lot of cases where the quality of the files I brought him were less than ideal, but he just made it sound like a million bucks. He had A totally down-to-earth attitude about everything and was really flexible with me in every way. I am so lucky! And, of course Matt Chamberlain is the consummate musician! I had the good fortune of working with a lot of amazing musicians on this record, including a few legendary drummers like James Gadson, but for some reason or another, the music really needed to be a little more quirky and specific, and Matt’s approach was really so unique and tasty and groovy, it really was a match made in heaven!
Who are some of your musical influences? Who are some of the new artists who inspire you?
Of course I love Kate Bush, Radiohead, Bjork, Sinead O’Connor, Cocteau Twins, Jeff Buckley. Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin blow my mind, and love Tom Waits. Before that, I grew up playing only classical music, and my favorite composers our Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Brahms Shostakovich , Bartok, Debussy. Some newer artists that I dig are Gotye, Little Dragon, Sia, Fiona Apple. So many great artists! I realize sometimes, when I go back and listen to my mom’s music, or the classical music from my childhood, that a lot of my musicality comes from those formative years and defining influences.
I would love to work with Prince. He has inspired so many other amazing artists and is such a visionary and it seems so spontaneous and free, it seems like it would be really challenging and fun to play with him! I’d love to work with Sinead O’Connor. Of course, from the musicians who are departed, probably everyone of them… From Duke Ellington, Chopin, and Jimi Hendrix.
When you aren’t performing and/or writing new material, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to go to the beach and pretend that my bedroom is on the sand. I love to laugh and check out great standup comics (my mother was a standup comedian and I grew up with the best) I love Russell Brand, Louis CK, Robin Williams RIP, Rick Overton, Bill Maher. And on the other side of it, I spend a lot of time reading about foreign-policy and they different crisis around the world… Democracy Now and truthdig.com are always open on my browser. I graduated in PoliSci from Brown, and human rights are really my passion.
I hope people will enjoy LiliLand as a journey. It is equal parts playful as it is triumphant and soulful. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said “For the simplicity that precedes complexity, I wouldn’t give a nickel. For the simplicity that comes after it, I would give my life.” There’s playfulness in LiliLand that comes from having lost it all and gotten it all back, plus much more. There’s a line in a song on the record called “My My Cross the Line” that says “you never know the price of freedom till you’re free.”