Mary Lattimore loves life on the road, which is a good thing since she spends more than half the year crisscrossing the country and traipsing overseas to play for crowds of people. These crowds aren’t your typical harp audience, though. Lattimore plays in nightclubs, indie music festivals, and the occasional dive bar that rarely, if ever, see a harpist on stage. In fact, Lattimore says she is often the first harpist to ever play most venues where she’s booked.
Lattimore’s unique style has not only earned her the respect of many in the music business to whom the harp might as well be a piece of parlor furniture, but also garnered a faithful following of fans. She also got the attention of the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia, which awarded her one of its prestigious fellowships in 2014. Her latest solo release, Hundreds of Days (2018), received national attention, with a National Public Radio review calling her “one of the country’s most compelling soloists” and The New Yorker proclaiming her “complex and expansive songs” evoke “seismic emotional shifts.”
So how did Lattimore—a classically trained harpist—end up playing with some of the biggest names in indie rock and making a name for herself as a soloist in a corner of the music world, uncharted by the harp? Well, we’ll get to that…it’s a long story. First, we have to begin where we found ourselves back in mid-May when Lattimore met up with us on a video chat—everyone’s all-too-familiar meeting place during the coronavirus pandemic. Lattimore should have been on tour in Europe that particular Friday we talked. Instead, she was at home in Los Angeles, grappling with the new reality of being a musician during widespread lockdowns and missing the connection with live audiences that she thrives on.
HC: Let’s start with what your musical life looks like as we are in the middle of this pandemic and nearly two months deep into stay-at-home orders in most states.
ML: I moved into a new apartment in November, and two good friends of mine live right next door, so we have been kind of quarantined together. As a single person living alone with no kids, I feel really lucky to have friends through this. But now at least I have some projects. Paul Sukeena, this really great guitar player, and I have been making music together. He plays with Angel Olsen and some other bands. He’s usually on tour a lot too, and so the two of us have had time. We got hired by Nike to do sound bites every week for their employees. I played a [virtual]show for Madewell, the clothing company—that was fun. Tomorrow I’m going to play another virtual concert for a public library in Maine. I’m not playing anywhere in public, but [the jobs are]slowly dribbling in and kind of making up for the fact that all my tours were canceled.
HC: Right, you’ve had all of your upcoming tours canceled because of the pandemic.
ML: I was supposed to be in Europe for a month right now. So it’s pretty heartbreaking to think about the things that were supposed to happen that aren’t. I have a record coming out in September that I worked really, really hard on. Now, all those dates are getting canceled, too. It’s kind of unrealistic to think that I can play in these public places for a couple hundred people in the fall. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.