The wait has ended. The date was May 13, 2011. It was the moment music enthusiasts, critics, and die-hard Eliza Gilkyson fans around the world could finally hear Eliza Gilkyson’s latest masterpiece, Roses at the End of Time. We spoke with Eliza Gilkyson about her music, spirituality, politics, and community activism.
Danita Dyess: Who came up with the concept/design for your beautiful album cover for Roses at the End of Time?
Eliza Gilkyson: It was my idea for the most part but required a lot of teamwork! I found the fabrics for the background and picked the clothes out with an idea to do something that was oversaturated with color. My son, Cisco, separated my skin from the rest of the shot so I could saturate the background to the max and get all those wild colors and textures, then we overlaid my skin back on top. . .pretty weird. I had a great photographer on board, Mary Bruton, who understood what I was going for and lit me so beautifully and posed me. I worked with a stylist, Stephanie Stephens, for makeup and overview. Cisco did graphics for the cover and Eric Peltoniemi did everything else. A lot of work went into it as you can see.
DD: I know that you have produced 13 albums – Land of Milk & Honey, Paradise Hotel, etc. Which one was the most difficult?
EG: All of them were hard for me. I’m a perfectionist and a taskmaster, but this one had a big learning curve because we recorded it in our home studio (Cisco and me) and although that gives you a lot more time to be
experimental, it also has all these little quirks and obstacles you have to overcome at every step along the way while you learn a new system. Before this, I always had an engineer and a studio up and ready to go.
DD: How is this album, Roses, different from the others?
EG: The biggest difference is that I turned the producer reins over to my son, Cisco, and that meant giving over to his vision for the recording. . .not my strong suit! But there was a very real payoff in it for me – I tried new approaches to arranging, and Cisco’s ideas were really terrific, things I never would have thought of. Again, doing it at home gave us time to try different approaches. I really worked hard on my guitar parts, came up with new ways to perform the songs. In some cases, I recorded the basic tracks on guitar several different ways before finding the right approach…this was painstaking work, going back and starting over again and again, but it really paid off in that I felt very grounded in the songs when it came time to sing them. It also made it so I could keep things stripped down because once we found the heart of the song, we didn’t need to add a whole lot of other instruments to make it work.
DD: You come from a musical family. Your father, Terry Gilkyson; sister Nancy Gilkyson, and brother Tony Gilkyson. If you weren’t a celebrated songwriter/musician, what else do you think you would be doing with your life?
EG: [I would be doing] something to do with the environment and nature, although I would most likely be an activist since there is so much at stake these days.
DD: I know that you have a strong faith in God and have been outspoken in the past. Is it your faith that gives you the courage to take a stand on issues like “Man of God” – the controversial song against the Bush regime and “Highway 9″ (Iraqi war)?
EG: I think it would be wrong to say I have faith in God. Maybe I could say I believe in a greater intelligence, possibly a collective unconscious or a higher power. But I can’t say that I have faith in the usual sense. I truly believe that we humans are going to have to dig ourselves out of the mess we have created, that free will was given to us and we will have to hold ourselves accountable for the consequences of our choices. I take a stand on issues that are important to me because I don’t think anyone is going to come to our rescue “out there,” and that a clock is ticking and there is not much time left to change the way we live and the way we think and the structures of power that are running rampant in the world today: Patriarchy, white supremacy, and imperial/corporate greed. Most of us have been “bought off” in some sense so we won’t fight back, but I think a little part of us dies every time we turn a blind eye to the suffering in the world caused by unfair systems of power and corruption.
DD: What’s it like to work with Joan Baez?
EG: Actually, we have never met! She recorded two of my songs on her last CD and I could not have been more surprised and honored!
DD: I know that you are an active community participant in favor of many causes. What is your involvement in the gay community?
EG: I don’t work directly with GLBT groups, though I support their work and am involved in groups with a strong GLBT presence and where support for GLBT rights is a given. I think my work is directly connected to GLBT issues in that we are dealing with naming and confronting overarching systems of power that are unethical, immoral and destructive. My work is more about pointing to the systems that keep all of us from participating equally and without prejudice in a more fair world. This means we have to dismantle the systems in play today and create new ways to live and work and play. All of us in various social concerns need to come together, unify, if we want to make a change. We have to see how all our issues are related and that we have a common foe: A hierarchical power structure that holds most of the wealth in the world and does not want us to unite against it or to be educated enough to understand who/why we are fighting. It used to be that the Black/Latino Power advocates and the Feminists and the Gay/Lesbian groups, and the antiwar advocates all could march in the same demonstration. Now, we are in separate groups with separate issues, and we can’t make much headway without each other. When I saw the recent video of the McDonald’s beating I wept because there was so much ignorance there and so much division between even the employees themselves. . . Where was the righteous indignation, the firm inner sense of morality and ethical behavior? Where was the compassion, the recognition that we are all human beings in this world together? So sad, what we have come to. I hope we can come together before it’s too late to educate the children on what it means to be human in this world.
If you’re lucky or spiritually attuned, someone will utter words that make you rethink your preconceived ideas and reconsider your previously accepted actions. Eliza is that kind of person. Her folk music – a delicious blend of rock and country with an electric twist – doesn’t just sound good; it is good. It heals a nation. Buddha said, “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. . . Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. . .But after observation . . .conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
In 2005, Danita learned about Volunteermatch.org and volunteered to work for two nonprofit organizations. As the online course developer for the National Council for Support of Disability Issues, she researched information, interviewed experts, and produced course material for a multicultural audience. As the English instructor for the Burma Students’ Association, she edited term papers for Burmese college students and co-wrote correspondence for faculty that facilitated attempts at peaceful alliances.
She will be completing her bachelor’s degree in English & Creative Writing from Missouri Southern State University in 2012. Currently, she works as a freelance writer for Textbrokers.com and Moneycrashers.com.