Joanna Newsom on groupies, her band, and 'Have one on me'
Joanna Newsom has reached a place where she has groupies.
They’re not the Penny Lane types or have her likeness stiched on throw pillows. She’s a harpist, after all. She has groupies the way Sarah Vowell has groupies.
“I don’t know if they would call themselves groupies, but there are people that follow me from town to town,” said, before adding the requite, “It’s very sweet.”
Six years after the release of her first album, “The Milk-Eyed Mender,” Newsom has gone from playing small venues like San Francisco’s Du Nord café to playing Rams Head Live, where she’ll perform Sunday.
Her new album, “Have one on me,” debuted in 7th place on Billboard’s independent charts.
At this point, her fans can recite all ten minutes of “Emily,” from her last album, “Ys” and just as easily pivot to one of the small symphonies in the new one.
Newsom inspires breathless devotion, the way people treasure things they don’t think others will appreciate. When she picked the songs on the 90-minute show - a quarter from “Mender,” a quarter from “Ys” and the rest from her new album, “Have one on me” – she did it with her groupies in mind.
“I want to make sure they hear as many songs as possible,” she said. “I believe every song gets played at some point during the tour.”
The show she’s touring with is not unlike her music: complicated, full of unfamiliar sounds and references, and only deceptively brittle.
Though they may sound like gossamer love songs on record, Newsom “shreds” her harp live, as the Village Voice put it after a recent New York show.
And behind her, she’ll have two violinists, a drummer, and a multi-instrumentalist who plays, among other things, a tambura, a sitar-like string instrument.
“I do a few solo songs, but I choose ones that are more dynamic and more instrumentally varied to take advantage of this band I have with me.” The effect is to dispel the notion that just because she plays the harp, hers is chamber music.
“Bearing in mind that people are sitting in their seats, I want there to be as much energy as possible,” she said. “Theres a lot happening musically. It’s not a hushed show in general.”
If you go: Joanna Newsom will perform Sunday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $27.50. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.
Photo: Pitch Perfect PR