Follow your muse. We all should have that inner-voice, that thing inside us that hopefully guides us down our life path and pushes us into whatever direction we think we need to go.
When the muse says you should be doing a certain thing, hopefully the muse isn’t like some kid from your neighborhood encouraging you to throw rocks at cars, but instead, something giving you positive affirmation regarding a particular talent, encouraging you to pursue said talent as long and as hard as you can. Call it God, call it your conscience, call it your imaginary friend; no matter what you call it, for some people, it speaks loud and clear.
I’m not sure what singer-songwriter Iris DeMent chooses to call her muse, but for the Iowa-based country and roots singer-songwriter, it’s been a clear voice that led her into the world of writing and recording music.
DeMent will perform solo Thursday at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
Music was a major part of the young DeMent’s household; had it not been something she’d make a career out of, it would have remained a constant in her life.
“That was my world. My mom, all my siblings and my Dad, too, but my mom particularly was a round-the-clock singer person. So that’s the water I was swimming in, it was just always there. Singing was like talking, if anything else,” DeMent said. “But as far as professionally, going out and doing what I do now, that didn’t really click in until I started writing. When the songs started coming to me, it sent me to a different place; I felt like I was supposed to share these things with people, and they were keeping me afloat in a way. It was a time in my life when I was just wandering around, looking for a path. And when the songs started coming, I knew that was my path and I jumped right on it and I’ve stayed on it ever since.”
DeMent grew up in a religious household where music was a daily presence. Religion, however, wasn’t such a force that certain types of music were forbidden: While her older siblings were turning her onto folk and rock ’n’ roll, she was also absorbing classic country. That’s a style of music that became a staple of everyday life, and that staple never went away.
“If you’re exposed to enough music, there’s a music language that is your first language as well,” she said. “For me, it was old country and gospel sounds that came from the people that fed me and carried me around. That’s what I was hearing, and there’s a vibration or something that comes out of that that you link to all these emotional survival places. For me, that never has gone away.”
A warm voice driven by subtle twang delivering homespun and personable songs, she’s a musician who is happy navigating the business at her own pace. Her 1992 debut, “Infamous Angel,” walks the line between modern folk and classic country, and her most recent release, 2015’s “The Trackless Woods,” is an ambient folk record where DeMent put music to the words of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Also known from her handful of duets with John Prine, she maintains a refreshing and respectable approach to music driven by the gut, not the wallet. It’s that mentality that makes her so genuine.
“I can’t fake sing,” she said. “Some people say I take this too seriously, I guess. But music is so tangled up in the spirit world for me that it’s like I have obligations to look out for, and if I can’t sing from that place, it’s not there. So, I listen to that. I didn’t get into this to make a gazillion dollars.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.