Interview: Heather McEntire

By Whitney Kenerly

I spoke with Heather McEntire of Mount Moriah while the band was driving through Wisconsin on their tour with the Indigo Girls. We chatted about the band’s new critically acclaimed self-titled album, North Carolina music, and how growing up in the
mountains inspired her to write folk music.

Congratulations on the new album. Were you surprised by the positive response?
Yeah. You never know how people are going to receive what you
create and it’s been really wonderful to see the positive responses and encouraging
words. We’ve felt a lot of support, so it feels really great.

I think the song, “Lament”, is a great example of the sort of sparseness and candid
writing found on the rest of the album. How did that song come about for you?
Well thank you. “Lament” was written several years ago actually, and initially it was
written a lot slower and a little sadder, you know, when I was going through that break-
up. And then, you know, after some time, post-break up, I started feeling more confident
and it became a pop song [laughs]. And it became really powerful for me to sing those
lyrics, and so it kind of took on a new energy I guess.

I love the music video for the song too. It looks like it was filmed in a single shot.
The video is one continuous take. We shot it in Durham, my home town, and on top
of a parking deck. Hueism Pictures – who we’ve worked with for four videos now – we
just really trusted them and they wanted to do a continuous take and it sounded pretty
fun, a little ambitious, but it worked out. It’s a little rough around the edges but I think
it gives it a good look. It’s not a super serious video with all these effects and stuff. It’s a little more natural and celebratory, which is what we wanted for that particular song.

I think I even recognized a few friends from Carrboro in the video.
[Laughs] There are probably a few familiar faces in there. It’s a small town.

You’ve collaborated with lots of other North Carolina artists. What is it that you like
about working with local artists and the scene there?
Well, it’s very comfortable for me to create here. I think that the cost of living
and quality of life is a really great balance and so it allows an artistic freedom. I’m
surrounded by really talented musicians who were inspired to move here or remain here
and there’s always this kind of pulse of creativity that I find really inspiring. I don’t know what it is exactly. To pinpoint why it is such an amazing place… there’s a lot of different reasons, you know? I love North Carolina. I grew up in the western part of the state and so it feels like home. And it’s awesome to feel that community and be a part of that continuous shaping of the music and arts scene. It’s really fulfilling for me.

Who are some of your favorite North Carolina artists right now?
Jenks and I, my band mate, we run a small record label called Holidays For Quince
Records, and so our output is almost exclusively local music, and we’re going to be releasing the new Caltrop record early next year. We’re excited about that. We [Mount Moriah] are working on a new record as well. But in terms of wanting to collaborate on our next Mount Moriah record with some folks, or just being interested in local bands, I really love The Tender Fruit, Christy Smith’s project. I also really love Skylar Gudasz’s voice, she has a band called Skylar Gudasz And The Ugly Girls. There’s so many to choose from.

There’s a lot of folk influence on the new album, and the style really showcases your
voice. Was that an intentional decision to go the folk route?
Sure. I grew up in the mountains and kind of come from a family of bluegrass
musicians. I guess for a lack of a better phrase, it’s kind of in my blood to lean
towards that country/folk feel. Also, I have spent the last ten years playing post-punk
music in a band called Bellafea, which was really kind of anti-structured, so Mount
Moriah is a neat challenge for me to write in a more traditional format and still be unique. I’m really interested in that challenge.

There’s a real power in the simplicity of it.

It’s a different kind of intimacy – a different kind of expression.

The album really harkens back to these legendary badass female singer-songwriters
like Carol King on Tapestry or Joni Mitchell. Were those women an influence for you?
Yeah. You mentioned Tapestry. I love Carol King. I had all of her records in a really
formative time for me, when I first started playing guitar. I had all the Fleetwood Mac
records too. So those are really formative as well. Honestly, the band we’re touring with
right now, The Indigo Girls, [listening to them] is kind of how I learned what a harmony
was, outside of hymns and things that I would learn in church. I listened mostly to
mainstream country for the most part of my life.

I never really noticed the church influence in your music before, but I guess it really
makes sense now that I think about it.
It’s something that never really goes away. It’s so formative. Even though I was really
shy as a child– I didn’t sing– I really took it in and listened really carefully.

Mount Moriah is playing at this year’s Hopscotch Music Festival. How has the
experience of being involved with the festival been for you?
I already knew that we had an amazing music community, but I think what [Hopscotch]
does is put our community on the map in a more national sense, and it’s
nice to kind of come together and be surrounded by all the local labels and just encourage
each other and go to everyone’s shows. It’s a lot of fun.

It’s really an incredible lineup.
You kind of have to commend the people curating it because it’s a pretty big
undertaking, you know. And it’s doing a lot for the Triangle. It’s awesome.

You mentioned being a part of the group Bellafea, and the 2007 album, Cavalcade, is
one of my favorites. Any plans to return to that project or something similar to it?

We’re working on a new record. It’s plugging along. It’s a little harder to stay focused on it because Mount Moriah is kind of a priority for me right now. But we work on it. I guess we’re about a third or halfway done. And that’s a fun direction to turn to. And it’s a chance to express myself a little differently.

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