Give Now  »

Calling in the Rhizome: Moira Smiley returns to Bloomington with a new album

Read Transcript
Hide Transcript




Moira Smiley: I came back to record and mix and edit the album. The Rise Home album with Dave Webber at Air Time Studios and at the end of that session I came in to Bloomington to say goodbye to Malcolm Douglas and Judy Klein and told them that I was in the middle of making all these portraits of various people whose stories are connected to the songs and Malcolm's Great Trees is on that album. And so I I asked, “Is there a piece of wood that's very sacred to you?” And he said “why yes, I have one.” and he gestured over to the woodpile by the fireplace. And there was the perfect rhizome... 


Christopher Burrus: I'm speaking with Maura Smiley, a performer and composer who is returning to Bloomington while on tour to perform music from a collection of songs, music, and photos she's created called The Rhizome Project. Moira Smiley. Thanks for speaking with me on WFIU. 

Moira Smiley: Thank you for having me. 

Christopher Burrus: I was curious about the opening track. Go Dig My Grave and the album is accompanied by a book of portraits and reflections on each track. And you're opening words there were “This song is a stunner.” which which describes it so well! Why did you open the album with such a such a stunner? 


Moira Smiley: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you for asking. That also has really strong ties to Bloomington because that arrangement just has a vocal arrangement, is really the the arrangement of Merrill Garbus, her deep connection to Bloomington is through Nate Brenner, her partner. When I sang with Merrill at the opening of the Lincoln Center with Chris Thile, And we did it with Brad Meldahl as well. We went up to the front of the stage and just sang it without microphones. And ohh it was just shivers, you know? And and not an easy arrangement to learn either because it's so, so. guided by that lead voice, but you're in absolute dissonance with it. So I just fell deep, deep in love with it and asked Meryl, would you sing that with me on my album? Would you let me record this on the album and let me add strings? which she did. And so, So the other reason, I just think it's it's just a beautiful heart-rending connection also to the anger that we feel. In having our rights eroded, you know anybody who feels disempowered and and just sees that they don't have, they can't change their situation. And she related that really strongly through this arrangement of a beautiful old and very sad ballad, so I just wanted to lead with this powerful statement and how the voice can express that, you know, like maybe nothing else. You could argue that, but yeah. So that's why I led with it...just so arresting and it says are some ideas. I hope you'll listen. 


Christopher Burrus: In contrast to that track, on Morning Dove, you say that it's the only original song that you include on this album. Why does it get that distinction? 

Moira Smiley : The reason I chose to include Morning Dove is that it's such a...It was a learning song for me, a a piece of wisdom came out of that through these birds. And into a time that was very dark in my life and it was just, it just was...It's recent enough that I feel it. I taste it very strongly now that you know that idea of learning how you become, how you stay in intimacy with another human being. But you work out how your differences don't necessarily separate you, but so the process being differentiation and I found that sort of sift down through my life, just learning about that and having it sift down through my life across the last few years has been profound. And so it's sort of the reason I can go on and so that's why it's in there. 

Christopher Burrus: The album as a whole is such a celebration of, not only your home, Vermont, but also this group of people that you've collected together and you use the album as a way to, kind of present this portrait of portraits of all these people that you know...And kind of what I describe of, or what I think of as found songs that go with all of them, and it inspired me to search my own life when I think about found songs that are floating around in my mind and connected to people that are a part of my home. And I think that people who hear your music and read your words can create their own mental rhizomes... 

Moira Smiley: Yes! Chris, you're blowing my mind! This is exactly it. This is what I want. 

Christopher Burrus: It's an opportunity to just be more reflective about your life and the people that are in it and the music that you collect and. That was such a rewarding process, rewarding process to listen to the album, to know that people can do that too. And I just wanted to thank you for that. 

Moira Smiley: Wow, thank you so much. You just absolutely nailed it and that. Yeah, that that is very emotional for me. I call it just calling in the rhizome. And just yeah, having a think, who are those people and the songs and how does it all make me who I am and connect me back into the world when you know, when I very desperately need it? 

Christopher Burrus: You can hear more Smiley sing songs from the Rhizome project on Sunday, June 23rd at 7:30 at the FAR Center. More information at For WIU Arts. I'm Christopher Burrus. 



"Calling in the Rhizome" is musician Moira Smiley's term for deep reflection on her home, the people that live there, and the personal songs she shares with them. Smiley hails from Vermont, but she chose Indiana University as her music school, receiving a degree in early music before embarking on a successful music career that has taken her around the world. Smiley returns to her roots (quite literally) with The Rhizome Project, an album, book, and portrait series that celebrates musical memories with meaningful people in her life. She traveled to Bloomington to record The Rhizome Project in February and will preform music from the album on June 23rd at the FAR Center as part of her tour. She joins WFIU's Christopher Burrus for a conversation about the album, and a preview of some of her music.    

More information on Moira Smiley's upcoming performance is available at


Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From