Thursday, May 28, 2009

7 Minutes in Heaven with Elaine Romanelli

2006 was a big year for Elaine Romanelli. The same year she starred on "What Not to Wear," Romanelli moved from San Francisco to New York City. Not only that, her debut EP, Better By Far, debuted and became one of CD Baby's top sellers. "Elaine Romanelli's music melds lyrical melodies, intimate storytelling, catchy pop choruses, wry humor, and Celtic keening," according to her website. These days, Romanelli performs every week from 7:30 to 10:30 pm, alternating Wednesdays and Thursdays, at Lime Leaf Restaurant (72nd and Broadway).

Romanelli stopped by Asphalt Eden to talk about the Weepies, being a "harmony addict," and rooftop parties in this edition of "7 Minutes in Heaven."
[Photograph by Yun Gen Yang]

Asphalt Eden: Who would you want to be stranded on a desert island with?

Elaine Romanelli: Ooh, tricky first question!

Hmm.... either cellist Yo-Yo Ma, because his playing is so consistently moving to me, and he seems quite lovely in person -- smart and grounded, and incidentally at least trilingual, so maybe I could work on my French with him -- or perhaps Bono, because he is thoughtfully and deeply engaged in the bigger picture without losing sight of quotidian glories and concerns. Plus he has that self-awareness that keeps his sense of humor sharp and his ego in check (for a rock star). I think he'd be fun to talk with, and heck, maybe we could write songs together.

Asphalt Eden: Who do you wish you could sing a duet with?

Elaine Romanelli: Dolly Parton or Alison Krauss. Or both! I'm a huge fan of three part harmony. Ooh, or also Jonatha Brooke. Or Gillian Welch and David Rawlings -- they're terrific. Or the Indigo Girls. Or Dawn Upshaw. Or Pink. Or Sting! Ben Folds also has a lovely voice. Oh, the Weepies. I adore them! My friends Keith and Renee from Canada....

Hard to narrow it down (clearly). I don't have a pre-set wish list, and I'm not picky when it comes to singing harmony, because I love love loooooove it. 'Fan' is not a strong enough word. 'Harmony addict' would be much more accurate. :)

What I would really most love is to connect up with another singer and songerwriter, a la the Weepies, or GW or DR, and become a duo, and sing lots and lots of harmony all the time on our songs.

Asphalt Eden: What is your favorite time of day?

Elaine Romanelli: The night time, without question. I come alive after sundown. I hit a wall around 11pm some nights, and sometimes can coax myself to bed then, but if I'm still awake after that I'll get a second wind, and then I'm especially clear and productive from midnight 'til about 2:30am. I love a good sunrise or sunset, and I'm grateful for the full noon sun -- but night is when I shine.

Asphalt Eden: Where in New York is the closest place to your own personal Garden of Eden?

Elaine Romanelli: It was the roof of my building, before they eliminated access to it this past fall. I loved the view of all the water towers, and the tiny sliver of the Hudson River, and the spaciousness of being, often, the sole person around, for a whole city block.

Sometimes I did run into people up there -- strangers who became friends, neighbors whose company I enjoyed -- and that was lovely as well. Very occasionally there were parties on the roof, and what a time that was! We'd string lights along the fence, and put candles on the tables we'd hauled up there, and thread an extension cord up from an apartment for music, and then we'd dance and eat and talk and laugh, and feel alive under the night sky.

Asphalt Eden: What's on repeat on your iPod?

Elaine Romanelli: I don't own an iPod! Yes, I realize that's freakish. Especially for a musician! I have no adequate defense, except that I have Luddite tendencies with respect to gadgetry, and also I value my hearing, so listening to music over earphones amid the ridiculous city and subway noise isn't that appealing.

At home I listen to Pandora, FM radio, public radio, various podcasts, my friends' recordings, people's MySpace pages, YouTube, and the songs on my iTunes. And I still listen to CDs. I find I play *many* things over and over. In fact, if I put a CD on, I tend to listen to it 3, 4, 5 times in a row.

I also spend a lot of time not listening to music out loud -- just listening to the songs in my head. There's always something playing in there. Sometimes it's a message for me -- my subconscious processing a feeling, I suppose, trying to get me to pay attention to it -- and sometimes it's a song idea I need to capture, or a song I'm working on that needs massaging.

New songs (of mine) will stick obsessively, both when there's something to fix and when they're just completed. If a new song fragment doesn't stick in my head to the point that I'm irritated, it usually doesn't get turned into a song.

So I guess I don't want to immerse myself in external sounds so much that I miss out on all that.

Asphalt Eden: If you could ask God one question, what would it be?

Elaine Romanelli: Why do you not intervene to prevent the suffering of innocents?

How, if you are God, can you possibly turn a blind eye to genocide, the systematic rape of entire countries of women, child prostitution, and decades of inhumane oppression of millions of people? This is a question I return to, again and again.

Asphalt Eden: What message do you want people to take away from your art?

Elaine Romanelli: "Hang in there." : ) And also, "you're not alone".

Often someone will come up after a show and tell me that a song of mine seems to be exactly about their life, as if I had been listening to the voices in their head. They seem relieved; less alone, less odd, more understood, more connected. I certainly feel that way about songs I love that other people wrote.

Life is full of struggles, deferred dreams, confusion, loss, and uncertainty, just as it is of triumph and love and lust and exultation. I think my path is to explore the questions about ourselves that come to us in the middle of all of that, in a way that captures the compound nature of our beings. We're messy creatures, with loud brains, contradictory thoughts, irrational behaviors, and lots of other people's expectations which we've internalized. Sometimes it's healing just to know that other people are equally messy. : )


Alrighty, well, there you go -- my thoughts du jour, for what they're worth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

she sounds really cool!