Jessica Moss has just released Galaxy Heart, a surprising collection of ten songs that form a companion to last year’s Phosphenes. The Montréal-based composer, violinist, and vocalist recorded the material for both records (and more) during the peak of early pandemic lockdown, allowing her songcraft to take new forms, as well as welcoming collaborators into her solo music for the first time. Moss, of course, is a prolific collaborator, and we have been a fan of her work for over two decades, particularly her 15-year tenure with Silver Mt. Zion. In this episode, Moss dives into the making of her two recent solo albums, the highs and lows of pandemic touring, the return of Black Ox Orkestar, and her collaborations with Vic Chesnutt and Jem Cohen.
Episode 27: ATTUNEMENT
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Interview recorded in Montreal, Yom Kippur 2022
Produced and mixed in Montreal, November 2022
SP* at Anchor
Moss began performing solo in 2014, as she explains in our conversation, partly after being inspired by some music made by Kevin Doria (Total Life, Growing, Hiss Tracts) who had frequently accompanied Mt. Zion on tour. Doria’s drones unlocked a door to composition for Moss, first documented by the cassette Under Plastic Island (2015). Recorded by Guy Picciotto, these two compositions are clearly structured in terms of sides, a format Moss repeated for her first two LPs for longtime label Constellation, Pools Of Light (2017) and Entanglement (2018). At the time, I remarked how rare it is for a “debut” album to come from an artist with two decades of work behind her, and Moss’s back catalogue both does and does not prepare us for her work as a solo artist. Moss’s long history with Silver Mt. Zion (and Black Ox Orkestar, and Carla Bozulich’s Evangelista, and numerous credits with Vic Chesnutt, Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Sarah Davachi, Zu and many others) familiarized us with her style of amplified and signal-processed violin and vocals.
Pools of Light exceeded our expectations in the grandness and intensity of its scope, with the mixture of joy and melancholy that seems to be Montreal’s most precious natural resource. That record consists of two four-part suites. Entanglement followed suit, with the sidelong “Particles” balanced by the four-part “Fractals (Truth 1-4).” “Contemplation I-III,” the a-side of Phosphenes (2021), appears to continue this trend of sidelong compositions or suites, but the b-side demonstrates new approaches to composition, with three distinct songs, “Let Down,” “Distortion Harbour,” and “Memorizing & Forgetting.” These three are also notable as the first time Moss has included additional musicians in her solo work; Thierry Amar lends his upright bass to the two former tracks, while Julius Lewy sings on the latter. Galaxy Heart (2022) is comprised of 10 discrete songs, featuring Amar’s bass as well as some drumming from Jim White (Dirty Three). It’s also the first time that she’s played electric guitar on her compositions. But the violin is still front and center.
I can’t be sure exactly when I first heard Moss’s violin. Probably on Godspeed’s debut, F# A# ∞, on which she performed as a guest musician, credited as just Jesse. She also played on many other records around that same time that were important to me in my late teen years, including by K.C. Accidental and Broken Social Scene. But it was her work with Silver Mt. Zion that made the biggest impression. I saw the band play for the first time in 2005 at Southpaw in Brooklyn, on what was (I think) their first US tour. On that same visit to NY the group, then a seven-member ensemble, performed live on David Garland’s Sunday evening public radio program, Spinning on Air. That show was a favorite of mine, and I happily downloaded that mono MP3 at the time and have returned to it regularly in the many years since.
While I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite Mt. Zion record, I certainly have a soft spot for Horses in the Sky (2005). Scott Levine Gilmore was the drummer at that time, also providing some lovely mandolin contributions, as can be heard on the WNYC sessions. Along with Moss and Amar, Levine was a member of Black Ox Orkestar, a quartet founded with Gabriel Levine to explore Jewish music, singing predominantly in Yiddish. As Mt. Zion included ¾ of Black Ox at the time of Horses in the Sky, perhaps some of the avant-klezmer style had crept in, for instance, on a song like “God Bless Our Dead Marines.” When asked during our conversation, Moss explains that Black Ox holds a special place in her back catalogue; that group provided an impetus for exploring her Jewish heritage, and their music counts among the few records she’s made to which she still listens.
We had initially arranged to speak upon the release of Phosphenes, but due to her obligations as a mother and touring musician we had to reschedule a few times. Luckily, in the interval, it was announced that Black Ox had returned from hibernation with a new record, Everything Returns (2022). Black Ox had been quiet since the release of Nisht Azoy (2006), as Scott and Gabe pursued academic interests, but the pandemic presented an opportunity for a reunion, spurred by an inquiry made by a journalist from Jewish Currents magazine. A new single accompanied that article, with the full-length LP Everything Returns slated for release next month.
That’s a lot of new music to enjoy from Jessica Moss. She’s become more confident as a solo performer, and has slowly come to humbly embrace the well-deserved attention. Just this year, she’s been featured in a cover article for Musicworks magazine, appeared in her own video for the first time, and embraced a steady touring schedule. Back in 2013, Moss and her Mt. Zion bandmates were featured in Helene Klodawsky’s excellent film, Come Worry With Us!, a documentary exploring parenting a young child while on the road. But of course we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and touring, as so many artists continue to remind us, has become more difficult than ever. And while the challenges, financial and otherwise, that have always made touring difficult have grown more intense, so too has the cathartic collective ritual of gathering for live music. Come worry with her.
ARTIST – “TITLE” (ALBUM, LABEL, YEAR)
Jessica Moss – “Enduring Oceans” (Galaxy Heart, Constellation, 2022)
Jessica Moss – “Memorizing And Forgetting” (Phosphenes, CST, 2021)
Jessica Moss – “UNDER” (Under Plastic Island, self-released, 2015)
Jessica Moss – “Uncanny Body [Violin Study #1]” (Galaxy Heart, CST, 2022)
Jessica Moss – “Uncanny Being [Violin Study #2] feat. Thierry Amar and Jim White” (Galaxy Heart, CST, 2022)
Sibelius / (Gil Shaham / Philharmonia Orchestra / Giuseppe Sinopoli) – “Violin Concerto in D minor, Op47 – 1st movement: Allegro moderato” (Violon Concerto – Violinkonzerte, Deutsche Grammophon, 1993)
Bulgarian Television and Radio Mixed Choir – Mihail Milkov – “Svyatii Bozhe” (Orthodox Chants, Балкантон, 1998)
Black Ox Orkestar – “Golem” (Nisht Azoy = נישט אזױ, CST, 2006)
Black Ox Orkestar – “Mizrakh-mi-maarav” (Everything Returns, CST, 2022)
K.C. Accidental – “Instrumental Died In The Bathtub And Took The Daydreams With It” (Anthems For The Could’ve Bin Pills, Noise Factory, 2000)
Broken Social Scene – “Time=Cause (Bee Hives, Arts & Crafts, 2004)
BSS – “I Slept With Bonhomme At The CBC” (Feel Good Lost, Noise Factory, 2001)
BSS – “Mossbraker” (Feel Good Lost, Noise Factory, 2001)
BSS – “Pitter Patter Goes My Heart” (You Forgot It In People, Arts & Crafts, 2002)
ZU – “The Dawning Moon of the Mind” (Jhator, House of Mythology, 2017)
Jessica Moss – “Fractals (Truth 1)” (Entanglement, CST, 2018)
Excerpts of David Garland interviewing Silver Mt. Zion (Spinning on Air, WNYC, 2005)
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band – “there’s a river in the valley made of melting snow” (Live on Spinning on Air, WNYC, 2005)
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band – “Hang On To Each Other” (Horses In The Sky, CST, 2005)
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra feat. Ariel Engle – “Any Fucking Thing You Love” (Hang On To Each Other, CST, 2014)
Jessica Moss – “Entire Populations (Pt III)” (Pools of Light, CST, 2017)
Vic Chesnutt – “Splendid” (North Star Deserter, CST, 2007)
Vic Chesnutt – “You Are Never Alone” (North Star Deserter, CST, 2007)
Vic Chesnutt – “Glossolalia” (North Star Deserter, CST, 2007)
Fugazi – “The Argument” (The Argument, Discord, 2001)
Sarah Davachi – “Matins” (Gave In Rest, Ba Da Bing!, 2018)
Matana Roberts – “Jewels Of The Sky: Inscription” (Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis, CST, 2019)
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band – “Horses in the Sky” (Live on Spinning on Air, WNYC, 2005)
Jessica Moss – “Opened Ending” (Corona Borealis Longplay Singles Series 2020-2021, CST, 2020)
Jessica Moss – “Opened Ending” (Galaxy Heart, CST, 2022)
Carla Bozulich – “Evangelista I” (Evangelista, CST, 2006)
Oiseaux-Tempête – “Weird Dancing In All-Night I” (From Somewhere Invisible, Sub Rosa, 2019)
Anonymous – “Valle Popullore” (Cry You Mountains Cry You Fields: Albanian Folk Music, Saydisc Records, 1999)
PJ Harvey – “Hanging In The Wire” (Let England Shake, Vagrant, 2011)
Eve Parker Finley – “Alone / Together” (Chrysalia, 2020)
Carla Bozulich – “Prince of the World” (Evangelista, CST, 2006)
Set Fire To Flames – “Barn Levitate” (Barn Levitate, self-released, 2020)
Jessica Moss – “Enduring Oceans” (Galaxy Heart, CST, 2022)
Jessica Moss – Distortion Harbour (Phosphenes, CST, 2021)
Sound Propositions is written, recorded, mixed, and produced by Joseph Sannicandro.