The back cover photo of Miriam Linna’s Nobody’s Baby LP says it all. She’s squeezed in between a wall full of carboard boxes of alphabetized 45s, a portable record player, paperbacks with titles like Girl Gangs and The Lolita Lovers, and what looks like hundreds of boxed-up CDs from Norton Records, the label she founded with her husband Billy Miller. Her musical partner Sam Elwitt has just enough space for himself and an acoustic guitar, but this is clearly a place that’s barely able to contain Miriam’s boundless love for “stacks of wax” and pulp novels. She is an enthusiast of the nth degree. She co-runs Norton, plays drums in the A-Bones, heads up her own publishing company Kicks Books, DJs, and rarely goes a day without publicizing her affections for Bobby Fuller and the Ramones, Sun Ra and the Shangri Las. She pairs every venture with a palpable passion you can’t help but get swept up in. On the occasions that I’ve gotten to see her DJ, she’s always dancing behind the decks, shaking her signature fringe and mouthing every lyric to every song, as if they’re all her favorite records of all time.
Pardon this digression, but I am reminded of my recent outing in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. I signed up for a “Nightwalk” through the gardens to watch bats and spiders and other nocturnal creatures go about their evening routines. Our guide jokingly introduced himself as the “Batman of Brooklyn,” and then proceeded to tell us the most fascinating facts about his favorite mammal. I’ve never had even the remotest interest in bats, but that all changed after being in the presence of such a ridiculously exuberant guide. Miriam Linna commands a similar power. You may never heard of Frankie Olvera’s “Huggie’s Bunnies” or the Luvs’ “We Kiss in the Shadows” but when she gets into nitty gritty details of “the build-up, the count, the participation, the anticipation, the unpredictability” of “Huggie’s Bunnies,” as she did in a recent interview with Dust & Grooves, you want to grab hold of that record immediately! It’s impossible not to be moved by her devotion to the music she loves.
When news spread of her recording a solo album, the response was not so much one of surprise as it was “YESSSS! But of course!” She’s exactly the person you want to hear from on record. That infectious power of Miriam is all over Nobody’s Baby, which features covers of Del Shannon, Neil Young, the Ramones, and Reparata & the Delrons, as well as original “Let Him Go Now” written by Miriam and Sam Elwitt. She cuts a laid-back somewhat androgynous vocal over the lush, folk-rock productions styled on her and Sam’s mutual love for Jack Nitzsche and Andrew Loog Oldham. It’s a darn catchy tribute to the sound and era without being imitative, and a wonderful way to discover some fantastic yet long-forgotten album tracks and obscure demos (her cover of Billy Nicholls’ “Cut and Come Again” is a particular favorite of mine). Miriam recently gave me the scoop on how Nobody’s Baby came about, her new role as a frontwoman, and the vocalists who inspire her. “Anyone who opens their heart to sing, willingly and honestly, is asking to be heard,” she says about some of her favorite singers, and that’s precisely why you should listen.
Miriam Linna on making a solo album: There was no conscious decision on my part to make a solo record. The fantastically musical Sam Elwitt cold-called me in December, asking if I would be up for singing on a song or two. He apparently had an idea brewing for a West Coast studio-type sound and thought I might fit the bill. I said yes and we were on a roll.
On song selections: We didn’t comb collections for these tracks or artists. We talked about picking a couple of favorite songs to try out with a big studio sound, and the songs just found us. Del Shannon is in regular rotation here at HQ—”My Love Has Gone” is from his killer and insanely underrated HOME AND AWAY album. Now that our record is out, it’s surprising to me that it’s new to many listeners. Sam is also a super-fan of these Del recordings with Andrew Loog Oldham—anything from that era of Del would have been a pleasure, but I’m glad we went for “My Love Is Gone.” It was an extremely exciting—elevating—experience.
The Neil Young demo track has been revered here at Norton-Kicks Central as one of those great, unrecorded mid-sixties lost diamonds, and seemed to be a natural. This 1965 demo is Neil singing and playing guitar, that’s all. Sam gave it the treatment, production-wise, steering it into Jack Nitzsche terrain—again, hallowed ground for both of us, I think. Del Shannon meant Andrew Loog Oldham and Neil Young meant Jack Nitzsche, production-wise. Looking back, it seems this initial pairing set the mood and sound for an album, as the idea of making a single turned into the dream of creating a collection of songs. In spite of my having a two and a half minute, 45 RPM brain, I found myself falling into a footlong frame of mind—twelve inches of vinyl, that is! One thing was certain—if we were going to create a album, it had to be one of those LPs that a listener would want to experience to from start to finish, without picking up the needle to skip a track. That may have been the single most important unspoken goal throughout the process.
We were not specifically going for the girl group sound. Rather unconsciously, we were choosing songs that were powerful and pretty. Looking back, I think, wow, those songs are total DOWNERS! But the best love-and-loss ballads transcend boy-girl situations and head into something heavier, into the “loner” league. Even the happiest, poppiest, most gum-snapping dance craze numbers boil down to a thrilling bleakness, don’t they? They do for me! As Sonny Bono would say, “Pammy’s On A Bummer”!