Lori is a musician living in New York’s East Village. Formerly the guitarist for Seely, she is a composer who makes records solo, as well as with her side project, Storms, and scores pieces for video, art, and dance in her Brooklyn studio.
In her own words:
“I grew up in an Italian neighborhood on Staten Island, and I loved my neighborhood as a kid; there was a sort of old-timey New York City culture that still prevailed back then. We had Anthony the fish guy and Jimmy the vegetable guy who would each drive their trucks down the block, and my mom, my grandmother, my great-grandmother and all the other ladies would line up to buy whatever was fresh that day… sort of like the ice cream man, but for Italian grandmas.
‘When you grow up in the boroughs in the 70s and 80s, New York is your entire world; nothing exists outside of it.’
Lori composes on the second floor of a carriage house in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Her latest piece will premiere at the Joyce Theater
in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood.
‘I grew up playing instruments. My parents bought me a small organ when I was 4, and that led to a piano, then a drum machine, then the electric guitar.’
If I'm just starting a piece, I'm usually experimenting with sounds — making and manipulating them and setting the palette. My mood gets super intense when I'm faced with a blank canvas, and I can spend hours and sometimes days just doing that. Once a harmonic theme emerges and the vision is clear, then I'm happy. I build until the piece takes on a life of its own, and then I add all the fun stuff. The sounds that help tell its story. That's a good studio day.
I love all aspects of what I do, but the most profoundly satisfying one is composing music for movement. I've always had a reverence for dance, and I'm a sucker for the history and romanticism of ballet. I got spoiled early on, because the first ballet I scored was performed by dancers from the American Ballet Theatre
‘There's an ecstatic nature to composing for the human body.’
I always think about authenticity, as a maker, and in dance, the body as an instrument doesn't lie. As a musician I can hide behind my sounds and instruments, but to perform with nothing but the physical self is to shoulder the responsibility of channeling a truth. John Cage
said something like, dance is not ‘about’; it just ‘is’. And I want to help bring forth what that ‘is’ is.
Lori in her Brooklyn studio. Her portrait, center left, was shot by Eric McNatt
I live with my girlfriend Ann Stephenson. I'm happy to say that we've been together for many years, and I feel lucky to share my life and space with my favorite human. Our apartment
is very much a home because of her. It's a studio, and it's filled with art and books and all means of finery that my girlfriend brings into it.
‘I live in the East Village, surrounded by the places and people I've always been influenced by. I love that I can walk to the apartment building that my father, aunt, and grandparents moved into when they emigrated from Sicily in 1950.’
The art and music scene in the 70s and early 80s is particularly meaningful to me. Arthur Russell
, and Robert Ashley
, and The Kitchen
, and The Poetry Project
, and everything in between. I try to stay connected to a downtown scene that's still thriving, though it's quite different from what it was. In terms of avant-garde music, the venues are rapidly disappearing. Corporate real estate is the devil, and some of the best spots have been forced out. Trans Pecos
, in Ridgewood, has taken the torch from Manhattan spots that are long gone, like Tonic
and The Cooler
. But there's a continuum of the past in the downtown performance community, and I'm grateful for it.
The Poetry Project
at St. Marks Church
is a sacred place for Lori and her girlfriend.
‘I talk a lot about the need to live our activism in any way we can. For me this means being willing to stand up for anyone being attacked or discriminated against for who they are.’
There are so many issues that are important to me, but I'm mostly focused on human rights – for Muslims, refugees, people of color, the working class, the queer and trans community, women, et cetera. I'm a big supporter of the ACLU
. As a consumer, I try to put my money where my mouth is in an effort to resist the current administration, but I've still got a long way to go. I think we're all plagued by a constant barrage of news that's hard to escape. I personally have to check out periodically to maintain my sanity.
, on the Lower East Side, is a delicious spot, and a current favorite of Lori's.
‘I'm a ‘know your bartender’ kind of person.’
Food is so important to me — it's my reward for a productive studio session, so I always try to make it something good. I try to support old-school mom & pop businesses… sadly a dying breed these days… and to connect with my East Village neighbors who have been there for 30, 40, and 50 years: bars like Lucy’s
, and International Bar
, and restaurants like Kossar’s Bialys
, Casa Adela
, Russ & Daughters
, and Veselka
. I like newer places, too, like Prune
, and GG’s
, that respect East Village history and care about being a lasting part of the neighborhood.
New York is still everything to me. It's a living, breathing part of my life and I need it to push me creatively. I feel constant pressure to produce here, and where at one time that made me want to crawl under a rock and hide, today it keeps me motivated. I recently read a quote from Thelonius Monk
that said, "Whatever you think can't be done, someone will come along and do it." And that epitomizes New York for me.
Another favorite is Donohue's Steak House on the Upper East Side. "It's a neighborhood joint with old school regulars eating wedge salads and shrimp cocktail at the bar."
Lori loves their grilled calves liver with an ice cold martini. "They make a good one."
‘Jumping into the ocean on a hot sunny day does it for me. I'll never get tired of the infinite vastness and the power that it has over you.’
WHAT'S YOUR DRINK ?
Winter: Rye Manhattan on the rocks. Summer: Hendricks & soda.
LAST MEMORABLE MEAL?
Suckling pig with Carolina Gold rice at Fig in Charleston, SC.
FAVORITE HIDDEN NEW YORK GEM?
The Northern Chinese skewer guy who has a Xinjiang cart under the Manhattan Bridge. That's all I'll say about that - go find him and you'll thank me.
DREAM DINNER GUEST?
IF I COULD DO SOMETHING ELSE?
I’d be Gertrude Stein.
IN THE LAST 10 YEARS:
I've gotten more focused, and more ambitious with my work. Hopefully more fearless, or at least more resilient to failure. I have a million notebooks that I write in, and I recently found one with a list of goals from about 2006. I learned I've accomplished most of the things I set out to do back then. That feels good for a second, then it's back to looking ahead."