The Endless Emotional Chasm
Poe on the Musical Collaboration in House of Leaves
"[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 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.
"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 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
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.