For the celebrated American experimental harpist and composer Mary Lattimore, being in the right place at the right time is the gift that keeps on giving. “I can name so many instances where if I hadn’t met someone at the same party or the same festival, the music we’ve made together wouldn’t have come to fruition,” she said. “I think these meetings are kind of destiny.”
When I spoke with her via Zoom in late October, Lattimore was on tour across North America, driving from city to city to promote her all-enveloping new album, Goodbye, Hotel Arkada. Seated in a roadside diner somewhere between Denver, Colorado, and Lawrence, Kansas, she was taking a well-earned break from a day spent driving while listening to podcasts and music.
“We’ve just been listening to a two-parter about this guy who scammed people in the early days of the internet,” she explained. “It’s fascinating hearing about the personalities of these people who can really trick you. He made a lot of money, but I haven’t got to the end of it yet. We’re thirty minutes away from finding out whether he gets arrested or flips.”
Since the mid-2010s, with the exception of the early pandemic years, Lattimore has spent much of her time on the road, travelling to play shows, record, collaborate, and find inspiration. In line with this, when I suggested to her that the more time you spend moving, the more chance there is of ending up in the right place at the right time, she agreed. “For me, collaboration is so social. It’s getting to know people, having interesting conversations, and thinking, ‘Oh, I bet our sounds would be simpatico.’ It’s a lot of hanging out that leads to musical collaboration.”
Blessed with a gift for emotionally expressive fingerwork and a touch that can effortlessly transport a receptive listener, Lattimore can more than comfortably hold an intimate vibe on her own. However, when she leans into her social nature, she often strikes gold, as her elegant playing dances around the textures and rhythms her collaborators create, moving like golden hour sunlight flickering on rippling ocean water.
Goodbye, Hotel Arkada, a cycle of atmospheric ambient pieces that evoke the bittersweet beauty of life’s cycles of change and decay, being in the right place at the right time and having interesting conversations, brought Lattimore into dialogue with, amongst others, former The Cure keyboardist Lol Tolhurst, Rachel Goswell from the British shoegaze band Slowdive, and the New Zealand abstract guitar hero Roy Montgomery.
Like on many of her previous records, Goodbye, Hotel Arkada finds Lattimore transposing memories of feelings and places into music. “I have a sort of bad memory,” she admitted. “I forget so much, and I’ve found music is a way to trigger my memories or give myself a flashback to that time. Playing these songs gives me an instant flashback, like a little time machine or something. I don’t know; I’ve always been nostalgic and sentimental.” Across the album, she recalls a childhood hug from Sesame Street’s Big Bird, stolen moments applying makeup backstage at shows, and a witching hour wander through the streets of Brussels.
Goodbye, Hotel Arkada‘s title references a day Lattimore spent exploring a dilapidated old-time hotel in Stari Grad, an ancient seaside town on the northern side of the Croatian island of Hvar. When she visited the titular hotel for the first time, it was on the verge of being renovated in a modern style. In that experience, Lattimore found a metaphor for the album’s central themes. “It’s not really about the hotel,” she said, speaking in a measured tone. “It’s about the idea of saying goodbye to something that’s not going to be the same when you come back to it. And to be clear, I don’t want to discourage people from visiting that place or staying in that hotel.”
In late November and early December, Lattimore will be travelling again, this time through New Zealand and Australia to play a series of headline shows and appear at The Others Way Festival and Meredith Music Festival. Although she’s performed in both countries before, every visit is, as she put it, “A dream come true.” “I grew up in North Carolina, and Australia and New Zealand seemed so far away,” she continued. “I never thought I’d get to go there.”
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What’s not widely known, though, is that in 2007, Lattimore spent a month in Auckland working as a nanny for a family on holiday. “I remember meeting Evan Dando from [the alternative rock band] The Lemonheads in the lobby of the hotel we were staying in because they were playing in Auckland,” she recalled. “It was an interesting experience. I feel like I got to know the city well through the lens of the nighttime hours I had free after I was done with the kids.”
When she first walked the streets of Auckland, Lattimore was a promising young harpist finding her way in Philadelphia’s late 2000s DIY music scene. Although she was on the verge of working with US and UK indie/alternative rock luminaries like Thurston Moore, Jarvis Cocker, Meg Baird, Kurt Vile, Sharon Van Etten, and Steve Gunn while launching her own highly collaborative solo career, what lay ahead for her wasn’t necessarily clear. Looking back with over a decade and a half of hindsight, she feels extraordinarily fortunate to have had the experiences that followed.
“I was playing with people who would become bigger later on,” she reflected. “At the time, it just felt like our community. No one was aspiring to play arenas or anything like that. It just felt cosy, like we were all from the same neighbourhood. I look at the people I was hanging out with and feel proud of where everyone has gone – you know, The War on Drugs playing these huge venues, Kurt Vile, these friends, and neighbours who have gone on to do really cool stuff.”