"It was a long jump from her beginnings in Old Town, a small town in western Maine."
1000 Kisses is Patty Griffin's first album, her third album, and her fifth album.
It's her first album for ATO Records.
It's her third commercially released album, following the critically acclaimed Living with Ghosts (1996) and Flaming Red (1998).
It's the fifth album she has recorded, though. Two of them are unreleased. And that's a story as complex as Patty Griffin's songs.
She made her first album in 1995 at the Daniel Lanois-owned Kingsway Studio in New Orleans. It was heavily produced, "very beautiful but I felt like I played a really small part in it. Fortunately, the record label hated it. But they loved the demos." Rather than redo the album, Patty proposed simply releasing the demos, which she recorded in a very humble and cramped studio in Boston, featuring just her voice and guitar. The result was, if not a huge hit, an Americana sensation titled Living With Ghosts, which enabled Griffin to set out on a very long solo tour.
It was a long jump from her beginnings in Old Town, a small town in western Maine. Old Town sits next to the Penobscot Indian reservation, and was populated by many French Canadians. Patty's mother grew up speaking French; her ancestors on that side were among those who made the trek from Canada's Maritimes to Louisiana, as recounted in Evangeline and other Cajun legends, which Griffin learned when she recently recorded a track for a Cajun music collection. Her grandmother also sang.
Patty got her first guitar when she was sixteen and immediately began writing songs. Aside from a brief stint in a cover band, she didn't do much public performing. At one point, she even moved to Florida for two years in a vain attempt to give up music. But after that was over, she moved to Boston where she didn't quite become part of the Boston-Cambridge scene, although she came to know many performers. Again, she did very little public performing, though she was writing all the while. "I was too timid to get out there, and I think I was kind of overwhelmed by the city, coming from such a small town. And I had a lot of work to do."
Eventually, she got a guitar teacher, "so once a week I had to perform in front of him." The teacher, John Curtis, admired what she was doing so much that they formed a duo act. Griffin credits Curtis and other Boston friends with teaching her about basic arrangements and especially about editing her songs. Now, she says, "songwriting tends to come out of what I need to sing-out of my body. It's the feel of the thing- the way it feels to sing."
Though Griffin is now identified as a folkish singer-songwriter, most of her Boston influences came from rock bands like Morphine, Treat Her Right and the Immortals. "I lacked confidence-I didn't feel like I had enough to offer a rock band. But I always felt like I wrote rock songs," she says. "It was all I listened to. I used to think, 'Don't call me a folksinger.' I used to get really insulted by that. I thought it kind of stuck me out in the field with all the daisies."
When she was done with the solo tour in 1997, Griffin moved to Nashville. "The South, musically, makes a lot of sense to me," she says. "There is, and always has been, a twang in my voice. And something nasal, too. I think that's the French-Canadian stuff, actually. Anyway, I love that sound. I can't really help it. I've got the nose."
In Nashville, she began work on her next album with producer Jay Joyce of iodine, a noisy, adventurous rock band. The move meant she could work in a house, rather than cramming into a rehearsal studio as she had in the Northeast, and that meant being able to work on the album over a period of months. The result was Flaming Red, which opens with the belligerent, punkish title track and then settles into modern singer-songwriter mode. It was finished and released without complaint and with a fair amount of record label support. And Patty's sophomore offering was received enthusiastically in the press and at radio stations that still play songs, not just beats. Griffin hit the road again, touring with a band to support Flaming Red's release and opening for such notables as Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams, which exposed her to more people and furthered her ever-growing loyal following.
By this time, Griffin had moved to Austin and was ready to record Flaming Red's follow up. She returned to New Orleans during Mardi Gras of 2000 to made her next album again at Kingsway Studio, this time with members of her road band: guitarist Doug Lancio and keyboardist John Deaderick, both from Nashville; bassist Frank Swart and drummer Billy Beard, both from Boston. It was made more-or-less in the style of Flaming Red, over a period of about six weeks, co-produced by Jay Joyce and Austinite Craig Ross. Patty's Silver Bell was the final record to be made at the lush, three-story French Quarter studio.
After turning in Silver Bell to A&M/Interscope, Patty left for the road again, embarking this time with the Dixie Chicks on their "Fly" tour ("Fly" comes from a Griffin-penned song "Let Him Fly," which the Dixie Chicks recorded for their second album). "When I turned in the record, Britney Spears had the number one hit at the time." A&M/Interscope sat and sat and sat on the tape. Finally, Patty and the label mutually decided to part ways.
At the suggestion of her manager, Ken Levitan, Patty then decided to make a "humble acoustic record" that also connected to her live sound. To do that, she took Doug Lancio up on his suggestion to come to Nashville and make a record at his house. "I had all these songs floating around that were not pop enough for a major label but were songs I loved to sing." So Griffin put together a band that included Lancio on guitar and mandolin, Brian Standefer on cello; Michael Ramos on accordion; John Deaderick on piano; Dave Jacques on bass; Giles Reeves on percussion and "incredible" vibes; and Emmylou Harris, who contributed background vocals on "Long Road." Griffin and Lancio co-produced the tracks that they recorded in Lancio's basement. The process took about six weeks, but Patty's basic tracks were cut in two days and most of the overdubbing was finished in three.
Meantime, Michael Ramos-"one of my more determined friends"-kept insisting that Patty come to his house in Texas and record an old Latin American standard. Griffin finally caved in and the result was "Mil Besos," a song she loved even more when the words were translated for her. (She doesn't speak Spanish.)
"Encountering your love I lost my faith and that gave me my reason to live/I lost my heart on the thousand kisses that I left on your lips/It might be a sin and it might be insane/but I have to keep loving you until my heart comes back"
It sounds like a Patty Griffin song: Passionate, intimate, wry, most of all true.
And when she sings it, in that unmistakable voice-whispered and powerful all at once-that's just what it is.
So it's a fitting title song for her third album. Her fifth. Her first.