The Joni Project: Son Little
Just in time for Joni Mitchell's 77th birthday on November 7, WFUV premiered "The Joni Project" on her birthday eve, a brand new hour of exclusive covers of Mitchell's songs by Sarah Jarosz, Courtney Marie Andrews, Son Little, Madison Cunningham, Margo Price, Bailen, The Mountain Goats, Nada Surf's Matthew Caws, Flock of Dimes, and Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith. The special is archived and available on demand.
FUV also spoke with some of the artists who participated about how Mitchell's songs have resonated with them, as songwriters and just plain fans. Son Little, the musician Aaron Livingston, spoke with Russ Borris back in late January before his FUV Live performance at The Sheen Center, about being a late bloomer to Joni's music and the reasons why he choose "Woodstock," from 1970's Ladies of the Canyon, as his cover for "The Joni Project."
Listen to his cover of "Woodstock" in the player above; below, an edited transcript of his conversation with us.
So you did “Woodstock.” What was the reason for choosing that one?
Well you know, there’s a bunch of songs that I sort of progressed through trying to figure out which one to do, but actually, “Woodstock” is one I probably heard a long time ago and since then I’ve gotten more into some of her later music. But it did kind of strike me lyrically, especially looking at it now, Woodstock being this kind of “shining moment of hippie utopia” and how that’s sort of faded and was dismantled. Something about the naivete of it was interesting to me.
Going from listener to performer, how did the song change for you and how did it challenge you?
Everything about the way she plays and sings and writes is so unique to her. And I thought about this when it came up in the first place: I couldn’t think of any covers of Joni Mitchell songs. I couldn’t think of any! You know, even this one, without having to deal with the crazy Joni Mitchell guitar tuning, which I would have been lost at doing — even though it’s on piano, it’s like the phrasing is really unusual. So it’s kind of a challenge to figure out how to do it in your own way. You know?
What is your favorite lyric in the song?
“We are stardust, we are golden, and we have to get ourselves back to the garden” is just an amazing statement. You know? That’s the thing that kinda hits the hardest for me.
Do you remember the first time you heard Joni?
I gotta admit I don’t. I really don’t. We had a couple of her records in my house growing up, and I remember listening to them as a kid. Again, her style is so unique to her and in some ways, from the outside looking in, it’s very complex. As a kid I struggled to follow it or understand it; I tuned into it [when I was] 11 or 12 and just didn’t really know what was going on. I checked in again in high school, and sort of every few years I found my appreciation for her growing.
How has Joni Mitchell influenced you as an artist?
Probably lyrically more than anything else. She’s so poetic, much in the vein of a Bob Dylan. I look at her as being a poet on that level, and that’s what I always strive for myself is to really pay that kind of attention to lyrics. Going back and finding something new in what she did is inspiring.
Essential artists have an impact on us and the world beyond music. What is hers?
It’s funny, this came at the best possible time! We finished this tour in L.A. and then I ended up driving all the way East myself. I went like 16 hours straight at one point, and I listened to Joni Mitchell all day, pretty much everything that Spotify had chronologically. I just happened to have done this a month ago, so it was kind of fresh in my mind. But one of the things that I noticed a lot was that we think of the ‘60s and ‘70s as a period of great improvement or empowerment for women. I felt like the way she kind of talks about her life, with love and relationships is very bold for her time or really any time. You know? It seems very ahead of the curve in the way that she’s dealing, head on, with life and doing it in a really poetic way.
Have you seen Joni perform live, either in person or a video?
I never have. I’m still kinda salty that when Mavis Staples had her birthday slam in L.A., Joni Mitchell was there and nobody told me! I just wanted to say “hello,” but I didn’t get a chance.
Fill in the blank: Joni Mitchell is:
- Son Little