The first time I heard Eden play, her last name was not introduced (it’s one you really have to spell), and when I saw her onstage I thought, “Who is this upstart who thinks she can play with the Larry Unger?” Then the music started and conscious thought virtually disappeared as I and others on the dance floor were swept away by her singing melody, luscious tone, vigorous rhythm, and headlong improvisations. She and Larry as the newly formed Notorious were the “second” band for a big contra dance event, but I felt they overshadowed the four-piece headliner group. Since then I have followed her gigs, concerts, and recordings with delight, always finding a combination of incredible chops and authentic feeling.
Tell me about your recordings and the groups you play with.
Other than studio work, most of the recording I’ve done has been with Larry [Unger: guitar, banjo]. I used to do a lot of studio work in Houston, so I’m on a bunch of country and rock recordings –– I’m on a rap CD out there somewhere –– it’s save-the-world rap, though, it’s good, friendly, healthy, eco-friendly rap. I’m on one classical CD called Shadows and Music, a piece for two sopranos, violin, and piano written by Robert Nelson.
The first CD I worked on with Larry was Waltz Time II –– I play on four tracks. One of them, “Two Rivers,” is going to be featured in the next Ken Burns documentary, Our National Parks. Larry and I did our first CD, called Notorious, as a duo in 2006. In 2008 we recorded a second [Notorious] CD, Elkins, as a quartet, with Sam Bartlett [mandolin] and Mark Hellenberg [percussion].
Does Notorious usually play as a quartet now?
Larry and I are the core of the band and we still do a lot of gigs as a duo. Sam has a family with three kids and Mark is a DJ, so they need to be home more, but when we play as a trio it’s usually with Sam, and as a quartet usually with Sam and Mark.
Do you still do studio work?
Yeah, I’ve recorded at a couple of different places around Boston for some singer-songwriter projects. I really love studio work; it’s fun to walk in and put your stamp on a project. Sometimes they send you a recording beforehand so you can prepare, and other times you have no idea what you’re getting into until you walk into the room. That’s exciting and challenging and fun, too.
I’m curious about how you met Larry and how that became Notorious?
Larry and I met in Houston in 2004. He had come down to play a contra dance weekend. I grew up in Houston and was one of the local contra dance youth. Adults in the local contra dance community were real mentors to me and still are, and that whole weekend they kept telling me, “Oh, you have to play with Larry” and they kept telling Larry, “Oh, you have to play with Eden.” Finally we managed to have a jam session and it was one of those magical musical moments –– we instantly had a great musical connection. Larry said, “If you ever come up to New England let me know, I’ll see if I can book some gigs for us.” It happened I was going to be in New England in a few months because I was thinking about moving there, and he managed to book the Princeton contra dance –– our first gig together –– and the Ithaca, New York dance for us. Then we drove to Maine and back to Massachusetts and I just really fell in love with it. I ended up moving there and Larry and I were able to play more often. One night we needed a band name. We’d been watching a lot of Hitchcock movies together, so we said, “Let’s go with Notorious, just for tonight, see how it works out” and it kinda stuck.
Contra dance is not exactly a music style… What do you think about contra dances as a place to perform music and be a musician?
Honestly, for me, contra dancing is all about community. I started dancing when I was about thirteen or fourteen. I had been in Massachusetts at a classical music festival, and a relative picked me up one night and took me contra dancing –– I think it was at the Grange in Greenfield –– and it was so exciting, I fell in love with it. At home in Houston I asked my mom to help me find the local contra dance and I started going. The community was so welcoming, and I found out that wherever I went –– to New York to visit my grandparents, or to Massachusetts to visit my relatives –– if I could find the local contra dance there was always a friendly group of people I could relate to. That was the first thing I loved about it.
From a musical standpoint, it’s more about playing music that makes people want to dance. Even in classical music I’m always looking for the dance in what I’m playing. My parents both loved folk music, and when I was a kid, we listened to either classical or folk music in our house. I had played in orchestras and quartets, which I loved, but when I joined a band it gave me my first opportunity to play music for people to dance to. I really enjoy the freedom you have at a dance to play pretty much any style of music that you want, as long as the beat is steady and the rhythm is good for the dancers. It’s a great leaping off place to try new things because you can improvise, you can try different styles of music –– you can just take a lot of chances you couldn’t take in a concert, because people aren’t listening as closely at a dance; they’re enjoying the excitement and the rhythm so much. So [contra dance] is a whole combination of things for me, I guess.
For more information on Eden, including recordings and sound clips, visit www.fiddlegarden.net and www.notoriousfolk.com.
[David Wright fiddles and plays mandolin with contra dance groups The Coyote ContraBand, Starthistle, and English country dance band Quite Carried Away, in and around Sacramento, California. This is his first piece for Fiddler Magazine.]
[For the rest of this interview, along with Eden's tunes "The Watermill" and "River Falls Waltz," subscribe to Fiddler Magazine!]