Gaelynn Lea of The Murder of Crows Discusses the New Album “Imperfecta,” Music and Life


The Murder of Crows consists of a violin played by Gaelynn Lea and the guitar of Alan Sparhawk. Both of these musicians together creates a flowing wonder of both beauty and sadness, although this impression may not be intentional.  This juxtaposition is most notable in the difference between the two songs with lyrics in them on the album.  “Bird Song,” the third track on the album, is light and joyful, while “Let it Go,” the next track, is sorrowful and heart wrenching. These songs nestle within the other instrumental tracks on the album which feature somewhat minimalist guitar playing by Sparhawk and almost exclusively features Gaelynn’s violin which seems to draw from styles of several genres including classical and Celtic.
Murder of Crows began by playing instrumental songs in October, 2011 as a soundtrack for the 1920s movie “The Penalty” by Lon Chaney. Since then, they have played fairly regularly in the area and just released their new EP titled “Imperfecta.”
The Reader had a chance to talk with Gaelynn about the album and what she’s been doing in the music scene lately.

PW: What’s the difference between a violin and fiddle?

GL: Same instrument, different styles.

PW: What are some of your personal influences as far as the violin goes?

GL: My favorite is probably Tchaikovsky, I like him a lot. My actual influences in how I play, it’s mostly Celtic fiddle. I like American Bluegrass, but I’m more Celtic fiddle. “Jim and Judy’s Wedding,” it’s the best fiddle tune ever, you should look it up.

Gaelynn started to play violin in the fifth grade after her orchestra teacher, Susan Sommerfeld, came up to her and encouraged her to play after a “music listening test,” which Gaelynn excelled at. “She came up to me and said you really should be in orchestra, you have a really good ear,” said Gaelynn. “We were thinking cello, but it was too big, so I ended up playing violin like a cello.”
Although Gaelynn plays in two bands, holds down a job and has a boyfriend, she has shown perseverance in the face of a disability known as Osteogenesis Imperfecta.  She is roughly three feet tall and she gets around in a powered wheel chair. Her drive, intelligence and outlook towards music and life is both humbling and inspiring.

PW: How important is it to even mention that you have a disability as far as music goes? I’ve never mentioned it thus far in whatever I’ve written about your bands.

GL: I don’t think it’s that important. I think it’s kind of interesting that people mention it as much as they do. The name of the EP is actually related to my disability, but also I feel the word “imperfecta” is awesome. No one’s perfect anyway, so I felt it made sense on a lot of levels.  

One of the things that stands out to some (including myself) is the somewhat sad feeling of the Murder of Crows sound. I could liken it to bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor in the way that it’s ambient, experimental and just carries a melancholy air about it.

PW: On this CD there seems like there’s some happy parts like the “Bird Song,” but the rest of it seems very mournful. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on where happiness and sadness lies in music.

GL: The two vocal songs I wrote after having deep conversations with Alan. There’s a fine line, because life is good and it is good most of the time. There’s so much to be thankful for, it’s such a delicate balance. There’s dark and light in everything and I guess that comes across in our music maybe. I don’t know how it ended up being so sad, because I don’t feel sad when we play it. After Sacred Heart is when people started saying, “oh my God, it’s so sad.” And I was like, “really?”

The album was recorded in Gaelynn’s living room by Sparhawk and was held to a structure of Sparhawk’s agenda. “He’s kind of into deadlines,” said Gaelynn. The recording started in February of 2012 and was finished in May. Sparhawk worked around his other projects and took on the duties to record, engineer and master the project.
Gaelynn also plays with a band called Snobarn along with Arianne Norrgard. She will be performing with Snobarn at Thirsty Pagan Brewing on Thursday, June 14 and at Sir Benedict’s this Friday, June 15. They have been playing as a duo, but will be accompanied by a band during these shows.
There were 50 initial copies of the Imperfecta EP, but the duo has put in an order for a whole lot more. It’s truly a gorgeous album that will captivate most music lovers.  Murder of Crows will be posting songs to be downloaded on iTunes in the very near future.