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Mountain Man's Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Meath are The A's

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

If it doesn't make you cackle or cry, it doesn't belong. That's how musician Alexandra Sauser-Monnig sums up the 10 eclectic songs on her new album with longtime collaborator Amelia Meath. They are The A's, but the album is "Fruit."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE NEEDS ME")

THE A'S: (Singing) All at once I knew. I knew at once, I knew he needed me.

RASCOE: The two best friends first performed as The A's in 2013, but after years of work on other joint and solo projects, listeners might recognize them as Sylvan Esso, Daughter of Swords, Mountain Man. They are leaning into their common first initial. Alexandra and Amelia join us now. Welcome to the program.

AMELIA MEATH: Thank you.

ALEXANDRA SAUSER-MONNIG: Thanks so much for having us.

RASCOE: So we just opened with the song "He Needs Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE NEEDS ME")

THE A'S: (Singing) He needs me. He needs me. He needs me. He needs me.

RASCOE: It's a cover of the Harry Nilsson song that Shelley Duvall sang in the film "Popeye." Amelia, why did you want that to kind of set the tone for this band, this album? That's, like, the first song.

MEATH: It was one of the first songs that we wanted to cover together, mostly because it's a beautiful and strange little weirdo of a song. And then as we started recording the record, it kind of morphed into the world that became the world of "Fruit." And we just got really excited about the concept of both a strange little ghost band that lived inside of the world of this record, and also the delicate and kind of silly feeling of menace that the song itself has living within it. Like, once we'd recorded this song, we knew where the record was going.

RASCOE: So, Alexandra, what is the world of "Fruit," and what does that look like?

SAUSER-MONNIG: We had two weeks in the studio to make the album happen. So, like, pretty early on, I think we'd been recording vocals and guitar and were starting to think about the elements of percussion. And I think at that moment, I was, like, running my hands through my hair, trying to get a tangle out, and, like, heard the sound of that and was like, what if we recorded my hair? Like, what if that was a part of the sound? And then from there, I feel like it sort of snowballed into, like, a beautiful aspect of the song. "Swing And Turn Jubilee" is Amelia outside with her sneakers on gravel being microphoned as she, like, steps in time to the rhythm of the song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWING AND TURN JUBILEE")

THE A'S: (Singing) If I had a needle and thread, as fine as I could sew...

SAUSER-MONNIG: And then, like, the sound of ice in a water bottle or the sound of, like, a hand brushing on nylon shorts, kind of sounding like a snare being brushed with brushes. Like, you know, just, like, whatever we could think of that was in the room or on our bodies or, like, anything we could think of to, like, sort of create sounds that conjured actual instruments but weren't actual instruments.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHY I'M GRIEVING")

THE A'S: (Singing) You ask me why I'm grieving. I'll tell you why I'm grieving. I'm grieving for the gal that done me wrong.

RASCOE: So I know that you've been yodeling together for more than 15 years. That's obviously a big inspiration on this project. You'll hear it on different songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHY I'M GRIEVING")

THE A'S: (Yodeling).

RASCOE: Why yodeling, for people who may not, you know, just automatically come with a love for yodeling?

SAUSER-MONNIG: Oh, why yodeling? I mean, I'm not sure. I mean, we just love yodeling. And, I mean, we, like, started yodeling together in the car on Mountain Man tour, a band that we have together with our dear best friend Molly. And I don't know, you kind of either love it or you hate it. And Amelia and I love it, and Molly kind of hates it, which is so fair. You know, there's always been this seed of this band, and it's been just, like, this shared love of something that our other bandmate doesn't like.

MEATH: And part of it is the joy of, like, trying to figure out how to do this, like, basically impossible series of sounds together. For this record, Alexandra figured out the incredible hack of phonetically writing some of them out, which was amazing. So we just really slowed the yodel down.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHY I'M GRIEVING")

THE A'S: (Yodeling).

RASCOE: All of the songs on "Fruit" are covers, or they're lullabies, or they're kind of already familiar tunes, except one, and that's the original track called "When I Die."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I DIE")

THE A'S: (Singing) When I die, build a funeral pyre, because when I die, I'll need to remind you.

RASCOE: Amelia, you wrote this song. Like, how did it come together, and why did you want to do this as the one, like, real original on the record?

MEATH: I wrote it in deep pandemic. I have a strange obsession with catchy instructional songs, most notably, like, dance songs that tell you how to do a dance.

RASCOE: Yeah, those are great.

MEATH: Yeah. And I decided that I wanted to do, like, an instructional song for when I died, or the idea of creating an instructional song for when you die to teach to all the people you love so that they remember what you want to have happen. And we had been recording for, like, four or five days, and we were looking at our list of songs that we had come up with to cover. And "When I Die" just popped into my head, and it really fit with everything, or it fit the strange world that we have been building.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I DIE")

THE A'S: (Singing) Put the music loud. Sing and dance around. Oh, ring all the bells in our town.

RASCOE: So what are your instructions for when you die?

MEATH: Oh, well. Well, let's see. I realized that what I want for my funeral is a dinner party, and at the dinner party, I want everyone to eat all of the food that they can finally eat because I'm not around anymore, like all my least favorite foods. So at my funeral, I want everyone to eat, like, fresh tomatoes and shrimp and chili.

RASCOE: (Laughter) So you kind of want them to celebrate a little bit?

MEATH: Oh, absolutely. It should be a party.

RASCOE: You know, people always say that. And maybe I'm bad, but I - when I die, I want people to be sad.

MEATH: You do?

RASCOE: (Laughter) You were going to say, I don't want people to be sad. I'm like, I want them to be sad, because I'm gone. Because I'm gone, I want you to be sad.

MEATH: I think that's smart, too. I also wanted there to be a small contest about who is the saddest, and whoever is the saddest gets to preside over the rest of the funeral.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GO TO SLEEP MY DARLING BABY")

THE A'S: (Singing) Go to sleep, my darling baby.

RASCOE: That's Amelia Meath and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. They are The A's. Their new album is "Fruit." Thank you both so much.

MEATH: Thank you.

SAUSER-MONNIG: Thank you. We're huge fans of you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.