The Ephemeral and Sincere Nature of Little Wings’ Zephyr: A Conversation with Kyle Field

Tomorrow, Sun Cru Music will be reissuing Little Wings’ Zephyr, a mysterious and charming cassette-only album, on vinyl for the first time ever.

I chatted with Little Wings, real name Kyle Field, about the record, his songwriting process and Lil Wayne. Check it out:

Record Crates United: So when you were growing up, what songs attracted you the most and did any particular qualities stand out to you more than others?

Kyle Field: I liked a variety of music for sure. Early on, it was filtered through the radio in my parents’ car and records at my parents’ house. For instance, my father liked the popular music of the time in the ‘70s, like John Denver or Neil Diamond, which I could probably cite as ingredients as far as intimacy and storytelling go. I felt like music like that, listening to it with my dad, there were a few different things going on. Probably, at the age of four or five my dad was like, “Hey, listen to this. I like this song. Here, listen to this.” So he was letting me in on something that he appreciated. I don’t know if it’s because he was sharing them with me, but I felt kind of honored to be let in on his world, because he would listen carefully and not talk over a song. We would lay there on the rug, in the den, as it’s called in Mississippi. We moved to the West Coast, and it’s called a living room, but in the South, you have a den, like a lion. We would lay on the dark brown carpet in the dark den listening to probably Neil Diamond. I would say Neil Diamond’s voice stuck out the most. I mean, [does a rather convincing Neil Diamond impression]. I felt also like [the artists] were singing to the listener; you know, they’re singing to me. So I felt like a small adult trying to grasp what they were talking about.

Getting to live inside of these songs probably lit something inside of me from a really young age, where I loved songs, and I loved music. I even had a rocking horse, the old plastic-formed ones that looked like a realistic horse on springs. So that was somehow allowed to be in the den once, and I would rock to the song just through a whole record or two records. I loved it. I feel like maybe I learned rhythm early doing that.

RCU: Are there songwriters today that stand out to you? Any that you gravitate towards?

KF: No…No no, just kidding. [laughs] I was thinking today, lyrically, that I’m almost still trying to write lyrics like Donald Fagan of Steely Dan. Because I think he’s one of my favorites, as well as Lil Wayne. Those are my two polar opposite lyricists from different generations in different worlds. At one point in my life —a very manic point in my life —my musical diet was mostly Lil Wayne and Steely Dan. I’m in love with the marriage of lyric and melody, because I think it’s such an alchemical thing putting the right word to exactly the right note. I think that’s what the active catalyst ingredient in music is that we kind of forget, putting the right word over the right chord, because it’s not just poetry, it’s not just this flat thing on the page. That’s the script. But when it’s sung, that’s what makes you react viscerally or emotionally. That’s when it becomes three dimensional, you know?

RCU: Oh, I get what you mean. I’ll bring that up again later, as that actually ties into a question I had for the song, “It’s Only” on Zephyr. I think that one has that kind of quality, and it also is-

KF: Familiar perhaps?

RCU: Yes!

KF: Isn’t there something familiar about that song? I feel like it’s based on some classic trope or a classic pattern, and I stay in a bubble in so many different ways because I love writing songs so much that I hope to always be able to write a song. I know that I repeat myself in different keys, but if I feel it’s new, then I’m inspired to write. I have, much like Merl Haggard— there’s a chance he had only had like a few song forms that he just kept using. He kept reinventing the same song. I’ve heard other people say that too, that there are these 1, 3, 4 or 5 classic things that work and “It’s Only”… I still haven’t put my finger on where it came from. Oftentimes, I try not to put my finger on where it came from so that the song can exist on its own.

RCU: That’s definitely a really good way to go about it. Initially I thought like, oh, is this like a Mark Mulcahy song, or a Stephen Merritt song, or something like that?

KF: It could. It could be both. And I don’t know either one of their songs. So there you go. Well, I think it is in the ether. It’s kind of floating around always. It’s up to people who are making songs to mine for it again, you know?

RCU: Yeah. I mean, in some sense, I feel like at this point, songwriting could be kind of connected to the collective unconscious. There are just so many songs out there in the world at this point, and they’re all accessible at your fingertips, so we’re all collecting tiny pieces, subliminally, possibly borrowing from other people who borrowed from other people and so on.

KF: For sure. It’s a language; it’s its own language. I feel likeI know that some people specifically just steal something directly, which is cool. It’s not my style, because I like to feel unique and I came up with it [laughs]. It’s kind of like you throw a stone and you’ll hit something. I think even if you don’t directly copy something, you are subconsciously directly copying something without knowing it.

RCU: Oh, absolutely.

KF: Yeah. And so there’s no competition in my mind in music now. It’s not a sport. Whoever gets first place this year in music doesn’t necessarily make the best music, and there is no ‘best music’.

RCU: That’s a good way of putting it. I think a lot of people put a ton of pressure on themselves to try to be as original as possible or, try hard to do something totally different, which is fine, but I feel like the pressure might actually stifle creativity.

KF: I think it must. What a lot of those poor fools don’t even know is that it’s a Wizard of Oz sort of situation, that is controlling who gets first place anyway. It has nothing to do with the artist. It has everything to do with their management and money, and who is being paid to be put on the top by the kind of, whatever you want to call it. The Mason musical lodge [laughs], or whoever is controlling the entertainment industry. It really is a sort of thing that you have to cast your lots to be even involved in playing that fame game. It’s an illusion.

RCU: Yeah. I get that. There’s something I remember hearing Arlo Guthrie saying about how one time he asked Bob Dylan how to write a song. So Dylan said something like, “well, it’s like you’re sitting by a river fishing, and then occasionally a song will just flow down the river and bite your hook, and it’s up to you pull it out.” And then Arlo said like, “Well, can you sometimes just let a few flow further downstream to me?” So that made a lot of sense to me.

KF: I heard Bob Dylan asked Matt Sweeney from Superwolves and other things, “Are you a songwriter? Do you write songs?”And he said yeah. Dylan said, “Oh, I just steal other people’s songs.”

RCU: [laughs] Yeah, he kind of did. Yeah. So I’m curious — first time I heard your music, the two songwriters that came to mind were Neil Innes and Ivor Cutler.

KF: Never heard either one of them.

RCU: Okay. Well, that was gonna be my question. If you ever listened to them. Neil was in The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and collaborated with Monty Python, and he did the soundtrack to The Rutles.

KF: Oh, yeah.

RCU: Yeah. So there’s something about those songs where they have some humor, but they’re actually legitimately good, wonderful songs that stand up on their own.

KF: Is he Irish or English?

RCU: He’s English. So I felt like some of your songs had that quality. Like sometimes they can be a bit funny, but they’re not like a joke-y throw-away kind of thing.

KF: You just named everything I want in a song by the way.

RCU: Oh, that’s great.

KF: Yeah. I like telling a joke with a straight face, and it’s very Donald Fagan, too… I was telling my wife this morning, Ah, I still love this! Because his song, “A Third World Man,” off of the Gaucho album would’ve happened in the wake of Brian Wilson’s meltdown. He was aware of the Pantheon of rock gods and always had a running commentary. The line is “Johnny’s playroom is a bunker filled with sand. He’s become a third world man.” I like to believe that was a reference to when Brian Wilson had sand imported into his living room, and he was sitting in the sand at his piano because he claimed that helped him write better.

I love him delivering it with his weird jazz singing phrase. I just like all of those layers and [laughs] calling Brian Wilson “Johnny.” Like, a ‘50s name? It’s just [laughs] It’s his playroom cuz he’s been reduced to a little boy now, but he’s sitting in the sand. “Smokey Sunday, he’s been mobilized since dawn, now he’s crouching on the lawn,” like a gardener kind of, but he’s not a gardener. I don’t know. I like all of that so much. And then I could go on to talk about the similarities between Donald Fagan and Lil Wayne, at some point in the conversation too. Lil Wayne almost broke the third or fourth wall or whatever for me, lyrically, and I leapt off from a place that I found only through listening to his writing. For certain, as far as using words in three different ways at the same time.

I don’t know, he’s a genius to me, and I know he took a picture with Trump and all this other jazz, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that he was at some point kind of one of the wildest writers for me.

RCU: If you want to talk more about the comparisons between the two, now is definitely the time to do so! I don’t think I know anyone who’s ever been able to make that connection. So I’m super interested.

KF: Well, one of my favorite ones, just in one line “Campbell’s Soup on the wrist, just call me Earl.” So Earl Campbell was the running back for the Houston Oilers, which Wayne’s this huge sports nut. So he knows of even sports legacies that happened when he was too young, because he’s younger than me. I was a kid when Earl Campbell was a running back for the Houston Oilers. I remember him well, Number 34 —but in that one line, “Campbell’s Soup on the wrist” means he is bragging about the size of his watch. Which is a classic hip hop boast, like look at my Cartier watch or whatever. So Campbell’s soup on the wrist, just call me Earl.

RCU: So good.

KF: Earl Campbell.

RCU: That’s amazing.

KF: Just that little passage. And that song is brick by brick, just loaded with those. Then he stacks them next to each other, so it takes you a year to digest it all and decode it all. I think that’s what I love, and I always loved about music, was learning the words. My neighbor up the street when I was nine was like, “Kyle learns the words faster than anyone on the street!” Like I had a Beach Boys greatest hits mixtape that my dad taped off the radio that I learned every word of somehow. It took a long time just by listening and figuring it out.

RCU: So coming to back to the Zepher album, I find with a lot of your recordings, there’s a great deal of character to them. There are plenty of textures, emphasis on the room sound, outside noises coming into the mix, etc. So I’m curious, what’s the environment of that album for you? What kind of character do you think it has?

KF: Right. So and I’ve heard this of other artists, like Jim O’Rourke. I don’t really listen to my records after I’ve mixed them and mastered them and such, because I’m thinking about the next one. I’m trying to keep myself neutral enough to be an actor in the next movie, so to speak. So it’s almost a heightened sense of existence when hitting record, and I’m so present that it’s just a hyper-level of existing just for those moments. With a record like Zephyr—when it’s just me and there are no other instruments on it—it’s almost like standing in front of a mirror and just staring at myself for a few hours to listen to that intimate of a performance. So I kind of feel like it’s more for other people to experience and not so much for me. I experienced those songs and I experienced the mood myself when I made the recording.

So I rarely revisit that moment. Emotionally, even, because if anything, I’m revisiting it technically, like here’s the mastered version of the record and I listen to it and I’m kind of listening with different ears than as a listener of the song does, if that makes sense? But I would say, do you remember hearing crickets on it?

RCU: Yes, absolutely.

KF: Yes. That’s interesting. So it was recorded at an undisclosed location, which in this day and age, I really feel privacy is the new real estate. And I kind of keep all of my locations undisclosed. I say that I live in Southern California, but I don’t really name a town and that sort of thing, because I feel like my everyday life is at one with the music, but at the same time, I really want it to be intentional when I’m doing the music. I don’t really want them to overlap all that much. In a very subtle way.

So the place where I recorded that record was a friend’s uncle’s place, and all around it burned in a fire pretty soon after that recording was made. So I’ve thought maybe none of those crickets are alive anymore. That was the one thought I had. There’s crickets on it. OK. I just captured a moment and whatever was happening in that moment. Especially with a recording like that, if I was feeling good inside when I was recording, then whatever else that got captured is part of the song. That’s kinda how I feel.

RCU: Yeah. I completely agree with that. I’m a huge fan of records that were recorded in a space where the space itself is utilized like an instrument. Like Tom Wait’s Bone Machine, recorded in a leaky basement somewhere. I once interviewed Christopher C. King, this incredible folk archivist who remasters old 78s, and he showed me this song [Editor’s note: and played it on The Record Crates United Mixtape!] from some old string band recorded in the 1910s or early 1920s. In the background, you hear the sound of a steam engine blowing its whistle as it goes by. So it’s, it’s very much a part of the song. This vanished piece of history is not only preserved for all time, it’s become part of this whole atmosphere, and you can’t really imagine the song without it. So I completely understand where you’re talking about there.

So I had another question about listening to the record, but since you said you don’t really go back and check out your own records, I’ll try to reframe it a little. If you happened to have listened to any part of this album in the vinyl mastering process, did any song hit you differently now than it did when you initially recorded it?

KF: Not that I can remember. That might happen for me more in playing the songs later. I think that’s when that tends to happen though.

RCU: So now going back to what we were talking about, about environments. Just curious, are there any particular environments that inspire you more than others creatively?

KF: To record in you mean, or like—

RCU: Or to write, or both?

KF: I can write anywhere, if I’m in the mood and sometimes a place can put me in the mood to write. In the same way that I’ve never really had a formal painting studio or art studio, I find the overhead of a designated space has the opposite effect on me. I’ve always feared living around recording equipment would make me stop writing songs, because it would be kind of this looming elephant in the room. Or is it a gorilla in the room?

RCU: I like gorilla better, to be honest.

KF: Okay. It’s a huge mammal in the room, looking at me and going, ”You’ve spent this amount of money on all of this stuff. When are you gonna write another song?” So I don’t know, I prefer to live in places that don’t necessarily look like anything in particular, besides being able to see books and stuff that we like around. So for me, there isn’t any one way to do it as far as inspiration goes and I like it that way. I haven’t had writer’s block in a really, really long time. The way I would define writer’s block for myself would be, I want to write a song, but I cannot write a song. Now I can always write a song if I want to. It might not be my best song, but it…the last song I wrote, I wrote a lot over the pandemic, and I was writing in the morning. I think I wrote 50 songs maybe, and they’re not all good, but I got in a rhythm of writing, writing, writing, and I think now the last legitimate song I’ve finished was on Thanksgiving of 2021. I haven’t needed to write a song because I wrote a bunch. The last song I wrote is called “Think I’ll Hide Out in the Jungle, See You Tomorrow.” And that’s the last song I’ve written as far as I know, as far as I can remember, and I’ve just been doing other stuff.

RCU: That’s great. I really wanna hear that. I’m just curious, how do you deal with writer’s block? I feel like a lot of people have very unique ways to deal with it.

KF: I think I had a painting teacher once that said paintings make paintings. I think to write is to just grease the wheels of writing itself. Mostly, I love the act of actually writing, and so I have always had a notebook going. When I’m on the go, I would always have a notebook and a backpack on me. Oh, I have my notebook in my pocket now, a small notebook, and I wrote down “the screams of the earth,” this morning. We had to go run some errands and I saw it on a billboard, like Robert Pollard style. I added it as the first line of a song that’s going to be called “I Don’t Wanna Come Down, So I’m Not Gonna Go Up Too Much.” And I sent that to Zeb Zaitz, who plays drums, and he was like, is that the title of your next song? And I was like, hang on. And I wrote it down and that was on 4/22/22.

RCU: Oh, my birthday!

KF: So that’s the last thing I’ve put in this notebook. It looks like, oh, that’s not true, but that’s what I opened to this morning. Then I will randomly be almost like William S. Burroughs, how he cut up words and whatever. I randomly assign words, like the first line of song, “the screams of the earth” could be a song title, but I feel like now I can start anywhere. All you need is a start is what I’m saying.

So I just love the act of writing. So if I’m not busy doing other stuff, I will just write just to write, because I think that doesn’t allow writer’s block to settle in. I just think writer’s block is like you’re outta practice, or maybe your motivations aren’t pure or something. I hear people talking about wanting to write a hit or this or that. I cannot relate to someone sitting around trying to formulate what they think people will like. That’s all that matters to me. If no one else gets it, I don’t give a hoot. Really. [laughs]

You don’t even know who your audience is nowadays. So how can you cater to them? You have to make the thing that resonates with you and trust that you have peers in that perspective. That’s how you’ll make quality stuff. Not trying to craft something to resonate with this ever-changing environment that will be different in a year. That’s not the way to make something timeless.

RCU: I fully agree. That’s been my philosophy as a writer as well. Zephyr feels extremely casual in the best way. It is a very intimate recording, which I know you mentioned before. So what was the recording process like for this particular album?

KF: As far as I remember, I recorded it on a single live microphone by myself in a back room of our house in one night, I think I recorded it front to back. As you hear it. Which physically and mentally is actually really easy to do. If you think about it, there’s no scheduling. It’s more like you tell the person that you live with, “I’m gonna go record something”, which doesn’t happen every day for me. And I kind of really enjoy setting intention and attention aside for when I’m going to record because I feel like that is different than someone who’s like, “I record every day, just to record,” you know? To the best of my memory, I believe that I recorded it one night.

It might have been over two days and the record that I was probably thinking of the most [at the time] would be something like Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. The first time I ever heard that, someone shared it with me when I was in my early twenties. My thought was like, why aren’t all records like this? Like it makes you want to cry sort of, as soon as you hear the first note and you’re like, is this person really sharing this with me right now? Is this person willing to set their something aside? I don’t even know what he was setting aside in making that kind of a recording, but the humanness and the intimacy there is so precious to me. And so rare that I feel like it also lends it to just focusing on the words of the song, which there’s nothing to distract you from it.

And like you said, if there’s extraneous noise in the room, like a bump, a ghost bumping the wall or whatever, then that gets to be featured. So something like that, or this Will Oldham record that was called Forest Time that I think was commissioned by a photographer, which was so interesting to me. I believe that the photographer had a publisher and was like, “Can you write some songs to go along with these photographs?” Will’s lucky people offer him neat things like that. He attracts really interesting people with projects like that, but when I heard that, that knocked me out, and I think maybe it’s only three songs or something. So Zephyr feels short on purpose to me in that way.

I love the idea of an album not asking too much of you. I think Pink Moon might be 20 minutes long, too, or something. It’s really short. So something about the ephemeral nature of a record that’s gone quickly, so that that the only option is to start it over or sit there in silence and think about it, or put on another record, which is probably going to be a little jarring after being in that space, you know? So all of those things I thought, and just thinking mechanically from album to album, I’m going for a variety. So I think I recorded it before we made the People album, which the People record was to kind of document the live band or a version of the live band that had come in the wake of the Explains record.

RCU: I’m backing up a bit again, but we talked a little about “It’s Only,” and there are so many great tracks on this record, but that’s definitely one of my favorites. Like what you were saying before, it feels like it has a lot of the same ingredients as other songs that I love, but are you able to explain a little bit further about what might have helped to inspire that song for you?

KF: I don’t completely remember. Well, that off-the-cuff quality you were talking about…for some reason, I really like the sentiment when people say “anyways” when you’re supposed to say “anyway.” In a similar way, I was saying, “There were some times when I would think about” [laughs] like, when are we talking about here? First of all, I like that it opens up with, “There were some times when I would think about the way the world goes,” and I like that there’s a confusion immediately with that. It kind of sets the song in the past…sort of? Just through language in and of itself. So then there’s a very overt and obvious kind of all caps, NOSTALGIA. Like this song is like a Carpenter song or something. I also wanted to talk about the violence of nature and fire and wind. So I was kind of fleshing out the Zephyr theme, which in the same way, I was talking before about how to give a song a title and describe the title, you give a record a title and then provide the ingredients to that title song by song. That seemed to fit under the umbrella of Zephyr, like a wind or a sudden wind, like wind is this mischievous element that can cause destruction, or it can be pleasant. Does that make sense?

RCU: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. No, that’s great. So then that leads me to just have to ask what’s, what’s coming up for you next that you’re allowed to talk about?

KF: So release-wise, I would say there’s a book out called Mushroom that Greg Olin and I made that’s a quasi-children’s book (Editor’s note: This book/record is available from our pals at Perpetual Doom Records!). So that’s out in the world now, and I just actually went and got my copies this morning. I’m playing on the East Coast at the Woodsist Festival in September. Oh, and there’s an East Coast tour that’s kind of in the works right now. I’m trying to make that as long as I possibly can, which I don’t really like to be gone for more than two weeks nowadays, per se.

I have two unnamed (publicly) records in the can that one of them needs more work, so it’s not in the can, but one of them just needs mixing. Then I’m trying to start recording another one this summer at home, which I normally don’t record in the summer, but I’m gonna try it this summer.

Huge thanks to Kyle for taking the time to have this wonderful chat! Click here to order Zephyr on vinyl from Sun Cru today.

-KH


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Published by Record Crates United

Keith Hadad, the creator and manager of RCU, has been a contributing writer to Elmore Magazine and Thewaster.com and maintains a regular column, “Keith Hadad’s Choice,” in Blicker magazine. His writing has also appeared in the Smithsonian Folkways' Guest Blog and the Optical Sounds Fanzine. Also, please check out the blog's super-active Instagram account, @recordcratesunited for daily blurb-styled music reviews.

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