CULTURE- Shepherds, rejoice: 35 years later, Vashti Bunyan is back!
It seemed from the get-go that the stage was set– Vashti Bunyan's first album was championed by the manager of the Rolling Stones, and her debut single had been penned by Mick and Keith themselves. But things grew more complicated with the release of Just Another Diamond Day in 1970.
Its otherworldly shimmering and timid swaying chord progressions were just a little too alien for the mainstream markets of the era, and it was not well received even though it makes a fantastic soundtrack by which to tend sheep in a placid corner of the Italian countryside. In other words, it was savaged by critics who have just as much trouble describing it now as they did in 1970.
Bunyan, then in her mid '20s, wasn't equipped to deal with all the frowny faces (though it could be argued that she was obviously cruisin' for a bruisin' with her xylophone-and-mandolin reimagining of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"), and she retreated from the music industry for a full 35 years before rolling out the follow-up, Lookaftering.
And as it turns out, three-plus decades of meditation might just be a viable cure for the sophomore slump: both albums are captivating listens, particularly with headphones, so it'll be worth the Satellite Ballroom's price of admission just to see how she brings it all to life Sunday night.
But despite any lumps or bumps or even occasional missteps– gentle ones, of course, delivered in a voice so soothing you scarcely know they're there– Lookaftering is an unqualified success on at least one front: seemingly against all odds, Bunyan has again delivered an album perfect for the relaxing goat herder. The two records are separated by three and half decades, but it might has well have been a week. If nothing else, that proves beyond all doubt that she's resolute in her artistic identity and capable of remaining true to her vision through all sensible boundaries of space and time.
The Hook: I'd like to apologize in advance for spending so much time on your 35-year disappearance.
Vashti Bunyan: Don't worry. I know it's the main ridiculousness of the story.
The Hook: So... er, why?
Vashti Bunyan: It was because I gave up music entirely and on purpose in 1971, after my album came out and nobody took any notice of it. I decided I must be rubbish.
The Hook: And you wouldn't so much as play guitar during that time?
Vashti Bunyan: Oh, no. It just hung up on the wall; it would just remind me of Diamond Day. It was ridiculed back in its day.
The Hook: So how did you react when they called it a classic when it was reissued?
Vashti Bunyan: Complete astonishment, honestly, but also great delight, because I put myself back in the shoes I was in when I made the album. It was like giving a present to the young girl who made those songs.
The Hook: What did you do in the meantime that affected the new album?
Vashti Bunyan: Well, I had my kids, I looked after so many different people and animals and things and learned how to make a living out of nothing, made furniture, had market stalls. I lived a pretty unconventional life; it just didn't include music. I grew a lot of potatoes.
The Hook: When did you start writing again? Why? Was it difficult?
Vashti Bunyan: It was definitely when the reissue of Diamond Day came out in the UK in 2000. The reviews this time were understanding– they seemed to get what I was talking about back then. They gave me courage. I picked up the guitar, and it didn't sound so terrible.
The Hook: It sounds like you were a pretty sensitive 24-year-old
Vashti Bunyan: I was always pretty shy. There wasn't much feedback; if you didn't have record sales, you assumed that nobody liked your music. The reviews that did come out were not very positive, and people were not as generous as they are now.
The Hook: So what would have happened if this one had been poorly received by critics?
Vashti Bunyan: Yeah, that was my dread. Between mastering the album and its release, I don't think I slept a wink. Would I have given up? Possibly not, because I would have had people to listen to. I would have known what was wrong.
The Hook: Did you find that you had a lot of material ready to gush out?
Vashti Bunyan: Yeah. And a lot of it was complete rubbish. It took a while to wade my way through. It was like teenage poetry, because I hadn't addressed all of those things for so long. It was a long time before I let anybody see or hear any of it, because I just didn't have any confidence in it at all.
The Hook: What changed about you during your time off?
Vashti Bunyan: I was incredibly slow. At first I thought I'd never be able to play my own guitar because it was terrible. After a while, it comes back. Even after 30 years, it comes back.
The Hook: But, honestly, how much a part of you can music be if you were able to ignore it for so long?
Vashti Bunyan: It had been my dream, and I had to put it away. Now I know how much of a hole it left in my life.
The Hook: Lots of people are tying your return to the success of Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. Is there a connection?
Vashti Bunyan: Devendra has been my greatest advocate and a fantastic friend. She and Joanna have made a place for me, and I will always be indebted to them for that, but I don't feel as if I influenced them or they me.
The Hook: You don't think the resurgence of folk music made things more hospitable for your return?
Vashti Bunyan: I don't consider myself a folk singer. I don't have a traditional bone in my body.
Vashti Bunyan at the Satellite Ballroom Sunday, February 4. Vetiver and Meredith Bragg open. $15, 8pm.