When someone immerses themselves into a new environment, coming back home for a short stay can be that much sweeter. Memories become more vivid, nostalgia is abundant and it’s nice to catch up with friends and loved ones. This is what’s going on with New London native and singer-songwriter Daphne Parker Powell, who currently calls current New Orleans home. She’s going to be doing a short run of shows around her old stomping grounds with MorganEve Swain from the local acts Brown Bird & The Huntress and Holder Of Hands. One of these shows will be taking place at the Knickerbocker Music Center on 35 Railroad Avenue in Westerly on May 20 with jazz & folk artist and University Of Rhode Island graduate Ben Shaw opening up the show at 8 p.m.
Powell and I had a talk ahead of the upcoming performance about her and MorganEve’s long friendship, moving to a different city, checking out a major music festival and a new album she plans to have out later in the year.
Rob Duguay: First off, how did you and MorganEve link up to do this run of shows as a duo?
Daphne Parker Powell: I think I first started sharing stages with MorganEve around 2009 when I was singing with the Paul Brockett Roadshow Band and Brown Bird was trading Providence shows with us in New London. We all became friends, which feels like a million years ago now. We were so young. We always stayed in each others’ lives through the albums and tours and heartaches and victories and in 2016 my pal James Maple, who had been playing drums with Brown Bird, and I started up a country style bingo night at the Oasis Pub once a month. MorganEve and Matt Slobogan from The Low Cards would be backing us up doing great old country songs — boots, hats and all. After that, it just fell into doing some original stuff and MorganEve played fiddle, upright bass and sang harmonies on my 2018 album Scared Fearless, and playing with me some last summer as COVID-19 would allow. We’ve grown closer over the years and I think it’s a fun adventure for both of us.
RD: That’s great how you both have had a long friendship. When it comes to collaboration, what would you say is different when it comes to making music with MorganEve versus other musicians you’ve performed with?
DPP: Everybody has their own unique take on performance, their own skills and strengths, their own humor and playfulness. I always saw the pure joy in her performances. She reaches this exalted otherworldly place even for as quiet and gentle as she is and I’ve always admired it. I tend to wear it all on my sleeve, so it’s a fun juxtaposition to work that interplay of our styles on stage. She also has a fantastic ear for the traditional harmony and sort of gospel. It feels like I grew up around Appalachian Ohio and she often hits just exactly the notes I imagine in my head before she gets there. It’s so intuitive and easy to work with her.
I play a lot with Kieran Ledwidge on violin, and I’d say that is kind of the biggest difference between working with them. She plays fiddle and he plays violin, he is more classical and loves to layer and build arrangements. Everybody knows I love to take huge experimental risks with style and arrangement and being able to incorporate both of them into Scared Fearless was a blast. Each one bringing such a signature and still being so complementary to one another and to the songs themselves.
RD: Recently you made the move from New London to New Orleans. What made you want to head down to The Big Easy and how has it been immersing yourself into a new environment?
DPP: Just to keep the air clear on that one, I am a New London gal for sure, and my time is split between the two spots, but I sure have been enjoying being able to spend more time in the most beautiful music town I’ve ever seen. It’s been a huge growing opportunity, surrounding yourself with musicians of that caliber. To watch them work, talk, play with them and feel their genuine love for music and its ever evolving story and the humility and inclusiveness in awe inspiring. I’ve been in New England a long time, played with a ton of great people and watched a lot of my collaborators over the years find homes in new cities that bring them more chances to learn and grow. It felt like it was finally time for me to take that leap as well and I’m completely in love with it.
RD: It’s awesome that you’ve been able to thrive in your new surroundings. Speaking of New Orleans, you were just at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Who would you say was the best act you saw and what was the whole experience like?
DPP: I was only able to make it for one day this year, but that was a wild ride. I had so many people on my list to see, one of the great things about the city is the frequency with which even the most astonishing players are just out and about and you can catch them playing intimate small venues. I prioritized seeing some bigger name acts, at least on paper. I missed Super Sunday this year, so I was really glad to see the Mardi Gras Indians and Skull and Bones parades, a great display of feathers and grace and mischief. Local favorites Hurray For The Riff Raff and Meschiya Lake are always at the top of my list and my friend Gina Forsyth played with a Cajun band so it was fun to see her, she’s a great songwriter in her own right.
I caught a little bit of John Boutte, Erykah Badu and Stevie Nicks from the sidelines. All around, it was entirely worth the crazy sunburn. Everyone was incredible and I can’t wait for next year. For anyone planning to go, I cannot stress enough: sunblock, hydrate and dance.
RD: That’s great advice. You’re working on a new album, correct? How far are you along in the process of making it and when do you plan on having it out for us to listen to it?
DPP: I am working on a new album and it is pretty darn close to done. We’re doing a couple of tiny mix tweaks this week and sending it off to get it mastered. I’ll be gathering the last of the graphics on this trip home to Connecticut and should be into manufacturing by mid June. You never want to give a specific date until all the variables are accounted for, but this isn’t my first rodeo. I can tell you beyond the teasers you’ll get this summer, we are hoping to start releasing singles in October and touring over the fall with a digital, CD release and vinyl a few months after.