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The Endless Emotional Chasm

Poe on the Musical Collaboration in House of Leaves

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"[My father] was driven by high expectations and he was very controlling. He wrote a script for the world and was disturbed when the actors did not play their parts."

—Poe

_

Poe is a famous recording artist, an American rock star whose 1995 debut album Hello was a big hit and developed her legion of fans who call themselves the Angry Psychos. Poe is also the House of Leaves author Mark Danielewski's younger sister. Word on the street is that Poe's long-awaited second album covers the same emotional territory and much of the imagery as House of Leaves.

I wanted to talk to Poe. I e-mailed Danielewski on how to get in touch with her. "Poe is in mixing hell, finishing her album. Call the studio," he wrote, giving me the number. "Ask for Poe."

In the Hollywood studio, Poe comes to the phone. "How are you doing?" she asks in an upbeat voice. "I work from 2 p.m. to 4 a.m. every day. I call this mixing heaven. I wish I didn't have to finish the album. I wish I could just continue mixing."

Sounding more like a graduate student who loves her research than a rock star with thousands of loving fans, Poe explains her setup. "We rent a house and set up a home studio," says Poe of the studio she is using near Sunset Boulevard. "We are not on some horrible clock. We don't pay $1800 a day."

The Emotional Gap

Danielewski's House of Leaves is being published this month by Pantheon. It is a horror story involving an expanding house and a descent into madness. A year before, Danielewski put out a nine-minute CD of readings from the book. Poe sings a twenty-five-second version of a song called the "The Five-and-a-Half Minute Hallway," titled after an important scene in the book. Poe's beautiful voice, richer and stronger than five years before, makes the listener want to cry out for more than just a taste of Poe.
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"House of Leaves"

"This record has been much more direct, much more conscious in the sense of 'Let's develop the next project in tandem and focus on some of the images we share.'"

—Poe

_

Poe has referred to her relationship with her brother as "partners in crime from day one." Their closeness as siblings and collaborators came from their childhood. Their father, Tad Z. Danielewski, was a Polish émigré filmmaker who took his wife and young children through Europe and Africa on his obsessive film projects. "My dad was so intense, my brother and I wanted to please him more than anything else in the world," says Poe. "He had that persona of someone you were aching to please. It was impossible. He was driven by high expectations and he was very controlling. He wrote a script for the world and was disturbed when the actors did not play their parts."

When Mark Danielewski was nine, he pledged to write a page a day of a novel, says Poe. A year later, Mark had a 365-page novel. "My father treated him like a writer in his workshop, and he acted like a critic. He tore the novel apart and made him rewrite the ending. We realized on the home front that we were the safe space for sharing creative ideas. Mark and I would go to each other for creative support."

Images from a Common History

The collaborations and poaching from each other started in their youth. "Mark would write a poem and I would take a verse and make a song out of it," says Poe. "Then Mark would take a lyric and turn it into a short story."

Poe notes that their family history created the emotions behind both the House of Leaves and her untitled album, due out in June. The endless and consuming corridors of the house on Ash Tree Lane become an unbridgeable emotional divide. "The corridors are about the places you can't get across," says Poe. "It is mainly about our Dad and trying to get across the great gap." The elder Danielewski had survived World War II, part of it in a concentration camp, but would not talk about his experiences.

"The first record was right after my father's death. Both Mark and I were going through hard times," she says. "This record has been much more direct, much more conscious in the sense of 'Let's develop the next project in tandem and focus on some of the images we share.' On the record, there is a song called 'Spanish Doll.' In the book, the little girl has a Spanish doll. For me, when we left Spain, I was about five years old. There was a marked consciousness that childhood was slipping away."

Melding Spoken Word and Music

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Poe recorded her album on a hard disk, which allows her to break down the different tracks. Unlike songs recorded on tape, Poe can manipulate songs any way she wants. Poe set up her brother with a ProTools mixing unit in the next room where he is able to sample from Poe's new recordings for this next CD of readings from House of Leaves, called "Explorations #4," from the homicidal expedition in the book. "Mark's new CD is going to have my music all over it."

The bonds are deep. "Mark was the coolest big brother," says Poe. She launches into a story about how when they were very young, their parents left them at a Swiss ski resort. "I think I was five, he was eight. I spilled my milk and some Austrian nun came up and said, 'Who ist spill this?' Mark stood up and said he did it. He had to stand in the corner for an hour. He took the bullet for me."

As Poe finishes the story, Mark comes into the studio. "Hey, there's Mr. Blue Hair!" she says, referring to Danielewski's blue dye job. "So what was I saying? Oh, yeah, I wrote this book and we decided to put Mark's name on it because it would help his self esteem." Going about his business in the studio, Mark ignores the provocation.

Poe toured with her band in support of the '95 album for two and a half years. "We played places no bigger than a shoebox to the Eden Festival of 120,000 people." During this time, her Angry Psychos fan base developed. The major success of Poe's debut album has allowed her the freedom to do what she wants with the new album.

For the untitled album, Poe has drawn from a lot of her musical influences that were not on the first album. "The album will be a hybrid, an attempt to integrate more styles," she says. During the recording, she has worked with musicians ranging from a Spanish guitarist who played sitar on the album to a Detroit blues man. "This album tells a story," Poe says. "It is not just song to song."

There are no firm plans yet, but Poe says she hopes to tour with her brother. The siblings plan to combine her music with readings from his House of Leaves.


Dylan Foley is an editor for the Daily Section of iUniverse.com.

 
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File Cabinet  
mzdchat.txt by johnny truant, 7/25/2000
A transcript of the iUniverse Cafe' chat with MZD on March 17, 2000.
aboutimg.gif by johnny truant, 7/22/2000
A brief introduction to the novel.
poediscography.txt by johnny truant, 7/22/2000
Poe Discography
poe.jpg by johnny truant, 7/22/2000
A photo of Poe.
mzd.jpg by johnny truant, 7/22/2000
A photo of MZD.
haunted.mp3 by johnny truant, 7/22/2000
A sample of the title track from the forthcoming Poe release.

Link Collection  
Temporary Community Message Board Until iUniverse gets our Message Board feature's bugs worked out, feel free to discuss the novel and cd by following this link!
Exploration Z A Haunted House of Leaves Alternate Universe. MANY links and lots of features, updated regularly.
NY Times Audio Feature MZD Reads from his novel at Housing Works Used Book Cafe, March 16, 2000. (includes a 34 minute audio program RealPlayer required)
KCRW Bookworm Interview with MZD A 30 minute radio program archived in realaudio. (RealPlayer G2 required to listen)
House of Leaves UK The official page for the London pressing of House of Leaves. (will not load in Netscape)
Listen to The Five and a Half Minute Hallway Listen to Mark, Poe and others read from the novel on these original promotional tracks. Click here for track details.
Listen to Exploration #4 Listen as Mark, Poe and others read excerpts from the novel over some of the sounds of Haunted.
ANGRY PSYCHOS This is a Web site for the ultimate Poe fans, the Angry Psychos.

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