Never Heard of ‘Em? #15 – She Speaks in Tongues

by Matt Meade


In the hip hop world, there is a practice that is referred to as interpolation.  This is a practice similar to sampling, except instead of using the original recording, the segment is re-recorded by new musicians as a way to circumvent copyright laws, or to reinterpret the original song.  The word is actually appropriated from the practice of inserting phrases in between existing parts in Classical music, which is itself lifted from the mathematical concept of constructing new data points within an existent range.   It is, however, such a ridiculous sounding and looking word that it feels like the kind of neologism that has to be based, not on an existent concept, or even a clever portmanteau, but on an understanding so charmingly wrong that it becomes memetic.  Interpolation is a word that reminds me of delightful word bumbles such as “secluse” (which is a verb that means to excuse someone into seclusion), “yesternight,” (which is different than yesterday), “dramastically” (which is an adjective which means to be drastically dramatic), and “Scientology,” (which means that you can be an asshole to anyone you want as long as you pay enough money to a shadowy cabal of accountants).

On her Tumblr page Kate McCandless, (the “She” from She Speaks in Tongues),explains that the songs from Gloria, GUITAR are some kind of experiment in appropriation and ownership.  The idea goes something like this:  She lifts ideas from existing and relatively well known songs such as “Saint Louis Blues” by Bessie Smith, andHarper Valley PTA by Jeannie C. Riley, and re-interprets them in ways that ask questions about who owns the material, and what does a modern day retelling of these stories do to the themes and ideas contained therein? She isn’t exactly playing these songs as covers.  She is moving pieces around, looking behind curtains, shorting out circuits to see what happens.  She is re-interpreting, or re-interpolating, the songs using the constituent parts to make something new, something that merely hints at the original.  The result is something fascinating and surprisingly listenable.

McCandless is slippery, evasive, and easily distracted, jumping around from one idea to another and twisting and rubbing them together to try to make sparks, interpolating the fuck out of each and every tune.  “Girl Group” feels like a scene from a one act play where a bunch of drunk girls try to sing a bastardized version of the Shangri-la’s “Leader of the Pack,” which makes sense since  McCandless claims to be an actress, a writer, and a director of performance pieces, and not a musician (though with that husky voice she could certainly fool you).   The title track, “Gloria, G-U-I-T-A-R” comes across like she was caught in the middle of the performance and forgot how to spell Gloria (something I have been expecting Anthony Kiedis to do for a decade), and instead switched to a Joplin impression. McCandless even interpolates the idea of an insipid and rowdy Beastie Boys style skit in the faux address to the PTA that she makes in the song “Mrs. Johnson.” Here she does it so that she can build tension out of the silly intro, the guitars seemingly wandering in, each from a different song, before they quiet down and begin to collude.  They fade out before things ramp up again in a slightly more cohesive, but still sloppy, Ramones-esque wiggle.

She squeals like Blondie and affects arch vocals shifts much like Fred Schneider without his wardrobe.  Unlike Schneider’s brightly colored suits and Debbie Harry’s eye liner, McCandless wears a burlap sack during her live shows, and for the past nine months at least, has performed with a baby inside her.  It bears mentioning how completely fucking bad ass it is to even go to a show when you are pregnant, let alone to perform that show.  This underscores the feminist bent to the music.  She is literally doing the most feminine thing possible, and then playing songs by a who’s who of female rock and rollers, swollen ankles, nausea, and fatigue be damned.

She’s able to invoke all these punk icons with little more than gumption and frustration to glue all the parts together.  She is invoking jazz and blues influences, spiritual and soul influences, and referencing everyone from Missy Elliot to 50s doo-wop, and funneling it all through the lens of a punk rocking theater geek.  She is less interested in playing the music than she is in presenting what the music sounds like to her, an artist, writer, and performer.  In so doing she is able to offer an exciting peak behind the curtain of these various genres.

The song that has gotten the most attention is the sometimes heavy, often rich, even quite groovy “Optimism.”  The success of this song should not be a surprise as the song is a re-imagination of the theme of Reading Rainbow, so it scratches the nostalgia itch and the pop-culture reference itch at the same time.  It takes the tone of the best satire.  You know the tone I am talking about.  The tone where we are not sure if we are joking or not.  Where we don’t know if we are making fun of the object of our reference, or earnestly recalling our youth.  The tone that could sorta be somewhere in between those two points on the map.  “Optimism” manages to co-opt the synthy and iconic opening chirps and then take the song in new and unexpected directions.  Its meanderings result in She Speaks in Tongues’ most interesting track.

She ends the song by tacking on a repeated stanza of “I Can’t stand the Rain.”  The inclusion of this song asks the question: Is she invoking the soulful Ann Peebles who recorded the song in 1976, or the hip-hop visionary Missy Elliot who re-introduced the song to a generation of listeners in the 90s?  McCandless is certainly an intellectual and aware of the rich history that rock and pop have to offer, but she is also of the generation who was raised on Missy Elliot and introduced to soul music through the Fugees, DJ Shadow samples, and from that Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth Sprite Commercial.

But does it matter?  Once the song has been interpolated, it becomes something new and it echoes all the other uses of the song, the same way Kanye’s “All Fall’s Down” reflected both the height of the Fugees and Lauryn Hill’s difficult (and unfairly maligned) Unplugged record, the same way MIA’s “Paper Planes” appropriates The Only Band That Matters’ “Go Straight to Hell Boy.”

I hate to be the guy who makes all the obvious associations, but it’s hard not to draw parallels to the Liz Phair who took Exile on Mainstreet back from her (mostly male) muso friends and interpolated it into something vital to her.  Gloria, G-U-I-T-A-R is the same kind of joyful manipulation, and re-appropriation that Phair used to blow everybody’s mind back in 1993.  Judging by history, Kate McCandles will now make a record with the Matrix and show up on a Gatorade commercial.  Until then, Gloria GUITAR is rejecting that kind of opportunism.  For now She Speaks in Tongues is a project that is Robin Hooding those ideas back from the corporations that own these songs and giving them back to us.



Twitter:  @shespeaksintong



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