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SPACE INTERVIEWS: Geneviève Beaudoin (Dead Gowns) and Ruth Garbus

It’s a treat whenever we get to host Dead Gowns, the alt-folk/indie-rock band led by songwriter Geneviève (aka gv) Beaudoin. But this Saturday’s show is a special occasion.

On December 16th, Dead Gowns celebrate the vinyl release of the How EP, lovingly repackaged by the record club Vinyl Me, Please. The holiday homecoming concludes a year that saw the release of a terrific new video (for the song “Kid 1”), plus relentless touring, including this latest jaunt with the Brooklyn dream-pop artist h.pruz.

It’s also been a huge year for Ruth Garbus, the indie-folk songwriter in Brattleboro, Vermont. Ruth’s new album Alive People — a studio album recorded before a live audience — has received wide acclaim, including from Pitchfork, who called it a “meditative, idiosyncratic set about the impermanence of all things” and one of the Best Rock Albums of 2023.

The idea behind SPACE INTERVIEWS is simple. Artists interview each other, sometimes with our help. We talked to gv and Ruth on December 8th. While gv was in the back of a car as Dead Gowns headed to a show in Philadelphia, and Ruth was in a colleague’s office in her Brattleboro workplace.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

SPACE: gv, where are you right now? Where are you heading to?

Geneviève Beaudoin: I’m in the car driving slowly in Philadelphia. We’re playing a basement show tonight, and we hit traffic.

SPACE: So how many shows in to the tour are you?

GB: This is the sixth show of 14, so pretty much halfway.

SPACE: Do you know how many shows you’ve played this year?

GB: I think just shy of a hundred.

Ruth Garbus: Oh my god. That’s crazy.

SPACE: Over three tours? Four tours?

GB: Yep, yep, yep. Yes. (laughs) If all of these shows still happen by the end of the year and no snowstorms cancel them, I think it’ll be 94.

RG: Wow.

GB: All DIY. All, like, day job in the backseat, picking up shifts when you’re home kind of stuff.

RG: Wow.

GB: How about you, Ruth? You’ve been touring too, no?

RG: I guess I did do a little tour, but really minimal. I went to California and played four shows. I haven’t done any touring except for that and that was barely even a tour. Not very many compared to you. But they all have felt like impactful shows, for what it’s worth.

SPACE: I’m curious, Ruth, about the show that became the album. Where was that recorded? That was one concert, correct?

RG: That was one show. It was last September, 2022. It was in Greenfield [Massachusetts] at this cool venue called 10 Forward. What do I wanna say about that? I mean, I’m actually burning with questions for Geneviève (laughs). I’m so curious to ask you questions about the tour you’re doing! But I’ll just rush through and say I wanted to record these songs before the pandemic and then the pandemic hit and interrupted that. I tried to record on my own and I’m just terrible at disciplining myself to try to do things alone. If I have a group of people, then yes. If there’s an event or a deadline with other people attached, I can do it. The songs were so old at that point that I felt like I couldn’t just go into my room and record these by myself, because they’re spiritually dead or whatever. So I got the idea to do it as a show and do it live, and I got excited because it was kind of scary.

Ruth Garbus, wearing shoulder lengthen brown hair and a black turtleneck, has her eyes closed before a sky blue curtain
Ruth Garbus (Photo by Josh Steele)

I had two shows. One was very intimate and small, so we would have sort of a control. And then the other one was a packed house in this 100-person venue. And it turned out that the tinier show was way more fucking terrifying and weird and intense for me than the one with the whole audience! So the entire thing was based on the recording of the sold out show. My friend Nick Bisceglia, who I’m now playing with, is an amazing engineer. So it became what it became. There’s little interstitial bits that are based on improvisations that elie [mcafee-hahn] and Julie [Bodian] did, in between when we were tuning and stuff.

GB: That takes guts. I listened to it the first time and I hadn’t read the bio or the review, and then when I listened to it a second time after I had read a review and was like, Holy shit!

RG: Yeah. I was like, flex! (laughs) That was part of the fucking idea.

GB: I don’t think there’s a higher flex!

RG: I think the higher flex would be if it was just raw. But it was recorded so well that we could mix it and put all this reverb on it.

GB: But then you manipulate and contort the little interstitial moments, like you speed up something or you distort a voice. I just thought it played with time in such a cool way. Because when you enter into a live concert, I often forget what time it is. So those changes felt true. They felt true!

RG: I like that. That’s really cool.

SPACE: For both of you, I think your music works in different kinds of spaces — like DIY clubs and also more polished rooms. Do different experiences bring out different versions of your work? Do you set out to plan a tour based around a certain type of room?

GB: I think [when] as a newer project that hasn’t really toured and just put out small EPS of music, I just felt like any touring was imperative. It was crucial to get out of Maine so I was willing to play anywhere. With this last tour with this final release, we have some polished venue spaces in store, but then we just played like a warehouse in Paterson, New Jersey, like a five-floor walk-up warehouse space. And we played a coffee shop the night before. But then we’ll play a Brooklyn club and we’ll play SPACE and we’ll play the Columbus Theatre (in Providence). It’s just kind of [about] where we have community — or where we don’t and want to build.

DIY is often a more accessible threshold to discover new music. I know some people are intimidated to go into certain DIY spaces, but for the most part, I think that’s the best way to discover a band you haven’t heard of. We’re gonna play a basement tonight. I’m not sure it has enough inputs for all of our gear!

RG: Do you have any shows that have been favorites on the in this year of touring that you’ve done? How do those relate in ways to the rooms?

DIY is often a more accessible threshold to discover new music. I know some people are intimidated to go into certain DIY spaces, but for the most part, I think that’s the best way to discover a band you haven’t heard of.

Geneviève Beaudoin, Dead Gowns

GB: I think extremes have really thrown me for a loop. Like, We’re in Provo, Utah, and we’re playing to 300 people. How did that happen? And then we’re in an intimate space in Denver and it’s just as great of a show. I get nervous when I see someone’s face really close to mine. Like last night in Paterson, this girl was really trying to make eye contact and I was like, I should make eye contact with you! It’s intimidating. We’ve had a year of going back and forth between different places to play and keeps me on my toes. How about you, Ruth?

RG: It’s cool to talk about. We just played a show at this place called the Owl Music Parlor in Brooklyn.

GB: I love the Owl!

RG: It’s really nice. It was created and made by a musician. It fits about 100 people, if that, and the sound is so dead, there’s like no reverb in there — in a good way. It’s like playing a show in a recording studio. Nick and elie and I played and we could hear each other and felt so electrified by the music. I felt like I reached a new height and a new understanding of listening and having that translate into when the music fucking takes off. You know those moments, if you’re lucky, where shit levitates off the ground? I was like, Oh my god when I listen, that happens. That’s such a different experience as a musician playing in a place like that than it is at a regular club where you’re going through a PA and there’s this real disembodied-ness for people playing, just not being able to hear themselves really well and all this stuff.

I really want to keep doing this more and more. Originally, I was like, I’ll grow and do bigger and bigger places. And now I’m like, Really? Is that really what I want? Is that the fun shit? I don’t know, I suspect not. I suspect not. (laughs) But I don’t know, I like playing music in any in all cases these days.

SPACE: I was gonna put you on the spot and ask about now that I’m seeing Alive People on so many year-end best-of lists. Do you worry that you might be propelled into playing these larger rooms only?

Dead Gowns (Photo by Hilary Eyestone)

RG: No, hell no. I mean, Kleinmeister was on Pitchfork and got a pretty decent review in 2019. Did it change anything about my life? No. (laughs) I’m not [complaining], it’s just up to me. I feel really, really lucky to have been given all this attention when friends of mine have made these incredible records and they’re not on Pitchfork. You know what I mean? I feel really lucky to get that exposure, but there’s no guarantee. I am not getting like any labels saying Let me give you $50,000 to record your next record. (laughs). That is not happening! I’m just like, What should I do with my little trio or whatever? Maybe we can [play a show and] get $500. (laughs)

On the other hand, my ego is a little problem child and she will she will destroy my art if I’m not careful. (laughs) I like money and I like nice shit and yeah, I need to be careful. The artists I admire most are the ones who were like, I never sold my shit! I never sold my publishing! Keep control of your masters! It’s a dangerous little gauntlet.

GB: I think the Owl is also a perfect example of community-making too. I was just about to put out how the How EP the first time and got added to a bill and through that bill met a bunch of different musicians around Brooklyn that led to my next show at the Owl. And at that show I fell in love with the music of h.pruz who is also joining our space. I was like, This songwriter makes me want to be a better songwriter. This band inspires me to push my arrangements. Maybe they would play more shows with Dead Gowns. Then they were like, How about we do two-and-a-half week tour? So much love to the Owl.

RG: It sounds like the place facilitated that connection.

GB: Yeah! ‘Cuz it’s a small room. It’s not one of those [places where] you pay an entry and then you have to have a two-drink minimum. It was perfectly intimate and just allowed people to show up and hear music that maybe wouldn’t have come out to a venue with more requirements.

RG: I think that there’s a level of bureaucracy that happens in the larger venues. I noticed that’s the Owl, it was professional but there aren’t all these paperwork barricades and shit. You know what I mean? Like all the hierarchical shit that can happen at larger venues where there’s this infrastructure in place that reinforces a kind of distancing.

SPACE: gv, you’ve been super busy making these really gorgeous music videos to accompany your songs. I wanted to ask if you conceive of your music and storytelling in visual terms. You’ve said in the past that you want your songs to be “like little plays.”

Ruth Garbus live (Photo by Josh Steele)

GB: Yeah, I think it dawned on me that there was that connection making the How EP. My background is in theater. I was a musical theater nerd growing up and did a performance studies undergrad and just was really, really in love with plays and multimedia performances. I think I’ve just been lucky to fall in with a crew of filmmakers in Maine who do a lot of commercial work and wanted to do something creative. It felt like that paired nicely with songs that to me feel like scripts, or like conversations between two people. That is the way I like to tell a story. But I’m not always fair to the other character. You just get my perspective most of the time. (laughs)

The director who made “Renter Not a Buyer,” Emilie Silvestri, we just really hit it off. And I actually got a grant from SPACE to do make a second video for this second version of the How EP, and got to continue that world-building this summer and put grant money into the hands of working creatives.

RG: How do you feel about videos in general? Did you make it because you really wanted to make a video did you need to have a video or were you like, We need to have a video what am I going to do?

GB: No, I wanted to make a music video. When I started writing the song “Renter Not a Buyer,” I was writing it while driving my car around and I thought of it in a storyboard. Like, How could this morning get worse and worse? It was loosely based off of an experience and I thought, man, this would be really cool to act out. And then Emilie was like, Yes but let’s also get all your bandmates to be these forces in a house that are just fucking with you the whole time and then you fall into a void. (laughs) We did it because it felt right to do.

RG: That’s awesome. I struggle with the video thing sometimes.

GB: What do you mean?

RG: I feel like [it’s not right] unless it comes from that kind of place where it artistically arises. It can feel sometimes like a requirement. I feel like most people are so visually [inclined], the video gets so attached to the music and it can’t live on its own anymore. So that’s really cool that you had that. Especially because that’s part of your history with being a creative person, with plays and theater.

Geneviève Beaudoin of Dead Gowns in the video “Kid 1 + Kid 2” (Photo by Emilie Silvestri)

GB: Yeah, it’s made me want to get better at it. I just did a dumb little video edit thing of all this footage from the first round of How EP world-building and this second round of it. It’s a fun puzzle to try to put visuals together, especially because I don’t find that visuals come easy to me. I have a lot of questions for my friends who work in light design or edit videos for a living.

SPACE: I’m really curious about if there are live albums that have been influential to you.

RG: Donny Hathaway’s Live is so incredible. My partner just introduced it to me the other day. You can totally tell it’s live but the performance is so amazing that it’s just not the first thing I noticed. This album didn’t inspire the way I recorded Alive People, but it does inspire me to make more live recordings and make them better and better and better.

GB: I’m just gonna plant this: what about live video?

RG: Yeah, totally. That would be kind of sick, actually. That’s a really good idea. It would probably be really fun to watch. It’d be even more of a flex. (laughs) I gotta get my fucking stage outfit set first. I still don’t know how to look.

Originally, I was like, I’ll grow and do bigger and bigger places. And now I’m like, really? Is that really what I want? Is that the fun shit? I don’t know, I suspect not.

Ruth Garbus

GB: I think a lot about what I wear on stage, like as a mask, you know? If I put on this dress, or if put on this green jacket, then it’s not like gv from your day to day, it’s Dead Gowns.

We recorded a live video early on in this tour in Richmond, Virginia, and the concept involved me, all live, starting out in a bathtub full of water in my clothes and then walking around this apartment soaking wet and rolling around in a bunch of laundry. I’m doing a total spoiler (laughs) but I rolled around in so many of my clothes, my touring clothes, that I have no dry clothes at the moment.

RG: Oh, no!

GB: I didn’t even think about it, and now I have a bunch of wet clothes. I salvaged, like, one stretchy pants and one sweater. I hope it comes out okay. To sacrifice dry clothes in the wintertime.

RG: It’s cool though the weird things that people do to get good film. It becomes a whole moment or whatever. Do you get theatrical when you perform on stage?

GB: Sometimes. I think on the 16th I’ll get theatrical. I can get really bashful lately and sometimes I just sing with my eyes closed. But I’m trying to open my eyes, like that person from Paterson the other night. (laughs)

Are you able to clear your head before you perform? Sometimes I feel like it’s hard to get pure and like grounded.

RG: Things have changed so much in the last year. I’m now just singing and not playing an instrument because I’m playing with Nick and elie. Nick is playing my guitar parts on the songs that are from before. So I have this newfound looseness.

Historically, yeah, I’ve been very careful to connect with, you know, a greater spirit outside of myself before I play, and be like, Help me get out of the way. But I’ve been so comfortable lately because I realized the really intense part was that I had to remember all these guitar parts! These days I’m just the singer, no other instrument. I love my guitar and I am grateful for my guitar, but it doesn’t come as naturally to me as singing. It’s not what I’ve worked on as much as taking voice lessons. It seems like now I have this newfound ability to just be on stage and feel like I’m bringing my full self and I’m communicating whatever it is in the moment to the audience, which is what I really like.

The other day in Burlington, we played at the Radio Bean and I really messed up. I got confused about the order and thought we had another act before we played. And I had just eaten a big meal before I played and my diaphragm was — it was a weird thing to have to sing. And I got on stage and, y’know, I talked about it and made jokes.

Sometimes I’ll be on stage and like there’s some really stupid shit going through my mind while I’m singing and I gotta be like, focus focus. I think that’s why I end up doing stuff like recording a live album so that I have all this adrenaline. It gets me in the zone.

GB: Adrenaline is key!

RG: Yeah, it is!

SPACE: Alright, gv, you’re probably close to the venue, hopefully! Thank you so much for your time.

GB: Thanks – I’m so excited. Yeah, we’re gonna go unload our stuff.

RG: Have a great show!

GV: Bye! See you next week!

Dead Gowns with Ruth Garbus and h.pruz | December 16 | Sat | 7:30 doors, 8 pm show | SPACE, 538 Congress St., Portland | $15 adv., $18 day of | $2 off for SPACE members | Tickets here

SPACE Reader

🕯️ This weekend only! The dance show of the summer is Scapegoat Garden’s Liturgy|Order|Bridge. The Hartford-based company calls upon Black church traditions and ideas of faith, nature, fashion, and experimentation in their limited performance run June 20-22. Tickets available now, presented by SPACE at Mechanics’ Hall. 🕯️