Name: Mary Lattimore
Occupation: Harpist, composer
Nationality: American  
Current release: Mary Lattimore's new Collection of Unreleased Rarities, Collected Pieces II is out via Ghostly.

If you enjoyed these thoughts by Mary Lattimore, visit her official website for more information. You can also check out her profiles on Instagram, and Facebook. Or visit our previous Mary Lattimore interview, where she expands on a wider range of topics.

Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?

All of it feels like it contributes to the creation of sounds and songs. Dreams, films, books, landscapes, heartbreak, frustration, news stories, memories, visual art, trips, they all inspire in a big-picture way, like threads of the fabric.

When I sit down to make music, I’m often struck with the idea for the song before the music comes out. So it’s just translating that idea or feeling into music.

For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

There’s barely any planning. I’ll just hear or see or remember something and then I’ll sit down and kind of fashion it. I definitely don’t have a visualization of the final thing before I make it.

It’s usually happy accidents that drive it too, like loops that bloom into other things.

Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?

No, usually there are no early versions. It’s a lot of improvisation on top of an arpeggio that feels right or a foundational melody or something, but usually the demo is the song. There’s no preparation, only thinking of the inspiration, like in writing “For Scott Kelly, Returned to Earth”, for example.

I knew that I wanted to write a piece for the astronaut, based on the idea of how strange it’d be to return back into society after being in space for so long. I knew I wanted to write something that felt twinkly and celestial, but to ground it with the risk that comes with improvisation on top, potential human mess-up.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

I usually like to drink tea or a little day-wine and have a couple of free hours with nothing to do. It’s a conversation I’m having with my instrument, so can’t really force it. Lighting candles is nice.

Or sometimes if I can’t sleep, I’ll play a synth through headphones late-night style. There’s really no formula or plan!

What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?

The first note feels easy. I just choose a key usually and then find an interesting pattern and the main melody usually just flows.

Maybe it won’t always be this way, but I think having really no expectations and no rules allows for a lot of free playing that feels true.

Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?

Usually the loops or the choices of instruments, just their sounds, dictate where the songs will go. Instinct just guides me and I trust it.

Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?

Yes, I’m definitely not interested in strict control when I play music. I think it’s the opposite. I just go where it feels interesting or beautiful or dark.

The song “Don’t Look”, for example, was made when Neil Halstead, who produced my record Silver Ladders, pressed record and let me just improvise in the studio. I took the emotions that I’d gathered from being in this melancholy seaside town in Cornwall, of working with a musical hero, of flying to a new place and absorbing all the newness, and the music just came out.

The first part of the piece is just very rambly harp that feels, like, observational and kind of emotional.

Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?

Yes, this definitely happens to me and I just go with it. Sometimes even just using a pedal to flip the melody backwards opens up a whole new sonic and melodic world. The magic for me is reacting in the moment.

There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?

I wouldn’t say it’s spirituality as much as an exorcism.

Since there are no lyrics, the music has to be the words, the story, the poems. Letting it out through melody is very cathartic and I’m really grateful to have the outlet.

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?

I do have a lot of really long pieces but, in general, I think the ending usually comes with my love of the physical record and the hope of making this thoughtful presentation of an LP/CD, sequenced, a full and complete idea.

This is where the control and thoughtfulness comes in - in the presentation and dreaming of someone out there cherishing the finished object in their collection.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?

I’m really not too picky. It feels like the sincerity comes in the making of it and marking that time, so for me personally, I don't like my future selves to interfere with the song that’s a time capsule for the moment it was created, if that makes any sense.

I’ll add some overdubs, some weird elements, some extra sparkle sometimes, but really I like to wrap it up as soon as possible because the beauty is in immortalizing the moment to me.

What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?

Mixing and mastering is very important but I’m not so hands-on because I have very trusted collaborators I’ve been working with for a long time and need the fresh ears on it. For Silver Ladders, Neil mixed it and I trusted his decisions very much and we did it remotely.

After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?

Yes, I can relate to the emptiness, when you’ve completed the statement and all of the elements have been decided on and you’re just waiting for the record to be manufactured. I guess I just wait for the next inspiration to strike and, in the meantime, try to have some life experiences to get there.