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White Magic conjures many shades of meaning

White Magic conjures many shades of meaning

Mira Billotte is an alchemist. There aren't all that many words to the songs she has written for "Dark Stars," the spellbinding new EP from Brooklyn psychedelic-folk duo White Magic, but when she sings them in her reverberant yet vaporous voice, they mystify and bewitch.
"I like a phrase having three or four meanings at once," says Billotte, en route from Atlanta, Georgia, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. "Of course, I know what it means to me, but someone else's interpretation is often just as artistically valid."
Case in point: "Shine on Heaven," the opening track of "Dark Stars." Over Billotte's intoning piano chords, underscored by finger cymbals, it sounds like she is singing something dark and metaphysical: "Shot from heaven/Death is heaven ... "
But when asked if this is so, Billotte can hardly suppress a giggle. "I like the idea, `death is heaven,' but death is not the word I'm singing," she says. "The song is me wondering about this idea of heaven. Everybody thinks they know about it, but nobody really knows. And nobody wants to admit they don't know.
"I believe (heaven) can be here on Earth, and after death as well. But in the song I'm questioning the concept that everyone is up in the clouds."
Another track also becomes slightly less sinister when Billotte's original intentions become known. On "Very Late," she distractedly sings lines such as "Where have you been boy?/You're home very late" and "What you may be looking for, may not be inside of me/Gonna hurt tomorrow," and the effect is chilling.
The foreboding is lessened, however, when Billotte reveals, "That's my interpretation of blues. I listen to a lot to blues and jazz. Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith were the first things I really listened to as a youngster (growing up in the Maryland suburbs of D.C. and Baltimore). Then I started to get into gospel. That was a turning point vocally.
"All my friends were listening to punk rock, and I enjoyed Fugazi and everything that came out of D.C.," adds Billotte, who in the late 1990s played drums in her older sister Christina's garage-rock band, Quix*o*tic. "But musically it was not what I wanted to express. I was getting into folk, gospel and blues."
Although Quix*o*tic was her sister's band, Billotte "learned a lot from her (songwriting) style. We have similar aesthetics. And like Quix*o*tic, White Magic also does soul and gospel covers."
So during a White Magic show, Billotte and guitarist Doug Shaw, accompanied by drummer Tommy Rouse, might trot out Nina Simone's "Plain Gold Ring" or the Staples Singers' "New Home," along with tunes from the band's 2006 full-length debut, "Dat Rosa Mel Apibus (The Rose Gives Honery to the Bees)."
Asked to compare "Dat Rosa" with "Dark Stars," Billotte replies, "The approaches to the music were almost opposite. 'Rosa' was very dense, with more layering, a more expansive sound, a vaster landscape. 'Dark Stars' was more spontaneous. The songs were recently written, and you can hear us forming them."


Updated : 2021-04-16 18:55 GMT+08:00