Artist Spotlight: Nineteen Thirteen

Chamber-art rock outfit Nineteen Thirteen played as a quartet for percussionist Victor DeLorenzo’s birthday at The Jazz Estate on Friday, October 25th. An intimate evening of lush soundscapes, laughter, and cocktails took place in celebration.

Nineteen Thirteen is primarily a duo featuring cellist/vocalist Janet Schiff and percussionist/vocalist Victor DeLorenzo. When they play as a quartet, Mike Hoffman hops in on bass and Matthew Meixner plays keyboard/synthesizer. Schiff and DeLorenzo have been playing music together for nine years total, and five as a duo. Their music is difficult to classify, taking elements of jazz, chamber pop, and art rock. They do all their own artwork; Schiff is a photographer and DeLorenzo takes interest in watercolor collages.

“We had a wonderful night that night,” DeLorenzo said about his birthday show. “We always look forward to playing more shows. One of the things that is hindering us from doing more is that we need a booking agent and it’s hard for us to find one – it’s hard for anyone to find one but especially for us because we’re so different from everything that’s out there. Sometimes the appeal of what we do for people is that they can’t define it. There’s so much cross-pollinating; it’s hard to tell what’s influenced by what. What’s nice about the relationship Janet and I have is that because it’s just the two of us, it’s easier to make decisions and also we can indulge our own personal likes, and that’s something you don’t always have in a bigger group. Even though we started out just doing instrumentals, now we’ve got to the point where there are some lyric and vocal-based pieces that are sneaking into our repertoire. We’re starting to be more open in the recordings and live with playing with other musicians, so we’re not just tethered to one idea.”

The duo are named for Schiff’s cello, which was made in 1913. She explains how she acquired it.

“The cello was owned by a professor/performer in Romania, and so he brought it to Milwaukee when he came to study to get his master’s degree. The funny story is that I was in the hallway of UWM and I saw a picture of him holding this beautiful cello, and I took it down and showed it to my mom. I said “mom, look at this!” and she thought I only liked it for the guy, but I really just liked the cello. I put it back up, and then it turns out he was gonna be my new teacher. He brought that cello and I always wanted to play it; I did get to touch it a couple times. His quartet was trying to get matching instruments all made by the same person down in Indiana, and we were able to work out a deal and I got this petite but very strong and loud 1913 cello from him. It’s slightly smaller than a normal cello. I’m 5’2 and my hands are sized appropriately, so when I played on this one all the struggles I had playing on a normal-sized cello were gone. It made a huge difference in how I could play.”

“What’s nice about our group too is how the cello is our featured instrument,” DeLorenzo added. “It’s not just something added on, which is what happens with a lot of groups nowadays. In the 70’s everyone had to have a saxophone. We appreciate that we can have the cello being ours. What I do in the percussion wheelhouse is to try and always support what she does and also give her new platforms to work off of. We’re not so married to structures; what Janet does live is different than what she does in the studio. Sometimes the loops she creates have to be elongated, so what I do has to be malleable enough where I can work off of what she’s doing.”

“In the studio we can build things with many lines running already,” Schiff continued. “There’ll be many layers of cello and then with the looping pedals I’ll build those all live – I don’t ever come to a show with something recorded already, so it’s something different for every audience.”

They just dropped a new record this past summer called “If You Like It, It’s Good.” DeLorenzo explains the title.

“I was on tour with the Violent Femmes and we were heading from Milwaukee up to Minneapolis…we stopped at the famous Norske Nook in Osseo – they’re known for their pies. Gordon and I were standing at the counter looking at the pies and there was one pie in particular…I think it was a rhubarb pie. Gordon asked the waitress if the pie was any good, and she took a second and looked at us and said “if you like it, it’s good” and the three of us just started laughing. I told Janet that story and we couldn’t think of a title for our new collection of recordings, and she came up with that for the title.”

He goes on to describe the album’s sequence and recording process. Schiff cites “Candy Necklace” as her personal favorite.

“We designed the record as having a lyric-based piece, then an instrumental, lyric-based piece, instrumental…it was different for us doing it this way. Some of the pieces we had worked on in advance and others we just created in the studio. Another reason why it’s nice having our own studio is how you can take that luxury of time – I could just put on a drum machine track for a time reference and I’ll play drums to it, and then Janet will come and I’ll ask her for a bass part. Other times one of us will write something and then it’s just a matter of getting it down to the machine.”

“For “Neverwood” I took a nap and woke up and came over to our studio,” Schiff said. “I used to live a block away. Before I took the nap I was watching a program on the Northwest Passage on Netflix, and then I came over and we recorded that. It’s got a real Inuit vibe. For “Candy Necklace” we recorded in a different way; we tried it several different times with a looper and we ended up just doing it live start to finish. I had the solo line in it in my head for about six years or so – and the title – but I didn’t have the bass line.”

Nineteen Thirteen is fixing to record two instrumental songs to release as a single. Victor DeLorenzo is working on solo stuff to potentially release an EP this spring. They play Anodyne on December 7th and Circle A on December 13th.

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