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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff on the Road, New Orleans and Eminems With Guitars

Posted By on Tue, Jul 15, 2014 at 3:19 AM

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I made my first trip to New Orleans back in May. It took me fifteen minutes to fall in love with the city and never want to leave. How long did it take you?

About the same. I was in a van with a bunch of people, and I got out on Decatur, and I thought, "Wow, this is it. I could do this." All that dreaming about going back in time when I was little came true in New Orleans.

Many of the songs on the new album are love letters to New Orleans, but there are also confessions, warnings, like "St. Roch Blues." Did the songs come together at once or over a long period of time?

Those songs have been in my head for a couple of years. I gathered them after living in New Orleans for many years, and then going out on the road a lot. Being away from New Orleans made me start writing those songs and reflecting on my time there, the many different dynamics I've seen as an outsider living there.

Do you still feel like an outsider?

Now I don't feel like I'm an outsider, but it's a different life that I lead from the average New Orleans resident. No matter what, I'm never going to be someone who is from New Orleans. That's a different relationship they have with the city. I like to say that I'm based out of there. The city has given me so much support. I try to rep it everywhere I go. If it weren't For New Orleans I wouldn't be playing music today.

Can you tell me the story behind "End of the Line"?

I wrote that one about a house I was living in in the Lower Ninth Ward, a great house by the river. We had a great big back yard, and it was connected to a house next door, and a lot of songwriters were filtering in and out. These guys from a band called the Deslondes were there writing songs. It was an inspirational spot. I wrote a lot of songs there. I wanted to capture the feeling of living there. It's sort of my version of Neil Young's "Long May You Run."

Do you remember when you wrote "The Body Electric"? Did a specific song set it off, or was it an idea you had to write a feminist answer song to the murder ballad tradition?

That's how it originated. I was at a bar listening to someone play a murder-ballad-style song they had written. That particular night it made me really angry. I was watching this person, and they were using that form, and they didn't truly understand what they were saying. I'm a news junkie, and I'd read a lot of stories in the news; I was feeling that the state of women globally, that we're at a breaking point. We're starting to reach this new consciousness about what it means to be free and safe in the world, and how do we want to be treated, whether it's culturally or in our personal relationships. Songs have so much power. If we change the way we sing about women it will change the way we treat women. It comes from believing in the power of song. I believe in Woody Guthrie and the songs that John Lennon wrote. They changed the way I think about the world. I think it's time that we take this tradition and put it to rest, and start reexamining the way we sing and write about women.

In that tradition, a lot of those songs started out as news reports. The singer was telling the story of something in recent memory. They weren't glorifying it or doing it for some gothic, hipster appeal.

Those songs were so beautiful. When people take that form just to be edgy, it gets me. What inspired that song is that someone had written something in that style but it wasn't saying anything but that they had killed their girlfriend because they were mad. Man, you're just like Eminem, except you're playing a guitar.

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